Downtown barkeeps would be the first to tell you that something needs to be done about all the drunken carousing in the streets late at night.
But the city's first pass at a “late-night entertainment establishment” ordinance was the very definition of a recipe for disaster.
The toned-down version that surfaced late last week is an improvement, but most bar and restaurant owners think it still needs work. They're right.
The idea here is that because late-night bars have a hand in causing all this commotion, they ought to help keep order.
Initially, the police were pushing for bouncers — or bar security — to be responsible for crowd control in the streets outside their businesses, and the nearby parking lots. Bad idea.
You know what you get when you mix a bouncer in a Motley Crue T-shirt, a half-dozen frat boys and a liberal amount of PBR?
You get a call to the police, or the hospital.
That's not helping anyone — except the guy who wins the lawsuit.
Subtle tax hike?
The bar and restaurant owners have been working this proposal hard.
They've lobbied City Council members because this is a case of the government hitting them square in the wallet. Forcing these businesses to add security staff is a back-door tax increase, and they feel like this is asking untrained working stiffs to do the police's job.
Now, if you're running a bar that stays open until 2 a.m. and you're serving a bunch of college kids and aging hipsters, you should have adequate security. The police are right — if the bars contribute to the problem, they ought to be part of the solution.
The city wisely backed off the provision that these bars would have to “patrol” the streets and parking lots around their premises. Uh, those are public places. Now the proposal says “monitor,” which is better, and something they should do anyway.
Of course there should be proper security inside bars. But does the city need to set guidelines for that?
Some City Council members seem hesitant to start legislating hiring practices.
There's hope for these guys yet.
Call in the cops
The late-night entertainment ordinance is on the agenda for council's Tuesday meeting.
The way it's worded now, it would only affect the roughly 100 businesses that have a cabaret license, which is a complicated way of designating late-night bars.
Some folks with the local restaurant association think the police just need to focus on the problem areas — King Street and the Market. But the city can't target an ordinance to a couple of streets. It has to be equitable citywide.
Obviously, the real solution is to hire more police officers. The council had a chance earlier this year, but would not fund them with a property tax increase. They believe the additional force should come from accommodations taxes.
Good idea. They should get on that right away, and think about the late-night entertainment ordinance a little longer, until it suits everyone.
Otherwise, the worst fight in downtown Charleston will be inside City Hall.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org
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