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Commission denies application to sell liquor at fairgrounds

Citizens from various neighborhoods near the Jaycee Fairgrounds filled the pews in the Commissioners’ Board Room as the Emanuel County Board of Commission held a public hearing concerning an application submitted by Charles Rowland, affiliate of Outback Entertainment, for a license to sell beer, wine, and liquor by the drink ahead of an upcoming event in July. After some 20 citizens gave their input, a majority of which was in opposition to the matter, the commission unanimously denied the application.

Bill Rogers Jr. was the first citizen to speak directly to the commissioners. In doing so, he talked about the approximate five different neighborhoods that would be impacted, should the commission grant the license application. Rogers also spoke about historical issues at the fairgrounds and urged the county’s leaders to consider what the potential implications of such a license could be.

“First of all, thanks to the commission for letting me speak tonight about this application by Mr. Rowland to sell beer, wine, and liquor at 324 Fairground Road in Swainsboro. For those of you who are not familiar, that is the Emanuel County Fairgrounds. The property is the site of the annual Jaycee Fair, and the property is owned by the Swainsboro Jaycees,” Rogers said. “A number of homes in Country Acres, the Ogburn subdivision, the Woodland subdivision, and parts of DeAlva will be impacted by your decision. To give you a short history, the Jaycees built the facility to house the 4-H exhibits at the fair, to have a talent show, and a beauty contest. In later years, the building was used to house lawn mower equipment made here in Swainsboro. In the last few years, the building has been used for entertainment gatherings. That’s when we started having problems with loud noise and late hours. It is not uncommon to hear folks in our neighborhoods to speak of rattling windows and pictures and china falling off walls.

“In June 2018, a group of four men—including myself—hired Statesboro attorney George H. Rountree to represent us in possible legal action in regard to those nuisances. It was his determination we would be justified in taking legal action. Mr. Rountree stated several cases under which Georgia law would apply. He wrote in a letter, ‘I have considered the facts you and your neighbors described recently regarding extremely loud noises played at the fairgrounds at odd hours of the night. I have reviewed the law and conclude the Jaycee organization involved in the operation of the building from which the loud noises emit. Officers and board members of that organization may be held libel for actual damages incurred by neighbors because of the excessive noise as well as punitive damage and attorney’s fees. The neighbors may petition for an injunction for a class-action law suit against the Jaycees, which would expand the number of people who could recover damages to any landowner or resident within appropriate proximity to the fairgrounds.’

“Now, with that said, I just want to say a few things. After we had that meeting, the Jaycees and we four men came to an agreement that if they kept the noise down and they would stop their entertainment at 12 midnight sharp, we could work with them. They agreed to do that, and they have. We haven’t had a problem since. Now comes the selling of beer, wine, and liquor on the property—and that is something altogether different. It will only exacerbate the problems we’ve had.”

Rogers went on to mention a few more concerns. Specifically, he mentioned no one in the neighborhood had seen a copy of the contract between the Jaycees and petitioner Rowland, leaving up in the air how frequently events at which the license might be used would take place.

He closed with the idea that the areas that surround the fairgrounds have primarily been residential ones, not commercial in nature.

“I believe if pushed hard enough, we will take legal action. These are subdivisions where people live and children play. We don’t need or want increased traffic. We certainly don’t want traffic at night, and we certainly don’t want drivers leaving impaired by alcohol. Finally, let me say this… Since the land adjacent to the fairgrounds is owned by the county and is used for parking for fair and other events, I wonder if you really want to be part of an event where there might be loitering, fighting, drug usage, shooting, or whatever might occur. If I was in your shoes, I wouldn’t.”

Applause filled the room upon Rogers’ conclusion, and many of the citizens who signed up to speak waved their right to do so as they felt his address put their concerns into words. A handful of other citizens—some of whom included Gail Edenfield, Barbara Fields, Linda Riner, Betty Jean Andrews, Barbara Daughtry, Darlene Canady, Billy Edenfield, Elizabeth Gilmer, Freddie McVey, Carl Tankersley, Jim Proctor, Sandra Proctor, Joey Blackmon, Terry Reynolds, Jodi Reynolds, Billy Brinson, Jessie Meadows, and Barbara Mercer—went on to give their opinions.

Most of the slated speakers voiced their opposition to the application due to safety concerns and the unknowns about what the license might permit in the future. Some questions were raised by different citizens, including what, if anything, the license would do for the community as well as why the license was being sought at all.

A handful of the speakers gave kudos to the Jaycees for the improved running of the fairgrounds and thanked the organization as a whole for its contributions to the local community.

Closing out the discussion, Rowland himself was on hand Monday evening for the roundtable and eventual vote. When given the opportunity, he explained that his group puts on concerts all over the southeast, often bringing revenue into those respective communities by way of hotel stays and hiring local labor.

“I’m not from Emanuel County. I’m from Bacon County. My son, Mack, lives here. We’re not a juke joint. We’re not a bar. We do this for a living all over north Georgia, Florida… We’ve done concerts in hay pastures, country club sites, barns, arenas. I don’t know enough about the Jaycee grounds or your neighborhood, but we’re not a fly-by-night operation. We do this all over the southeast,” Rowland stated. “We honestly don’t know that we’ll come back to the fairgrounds. Each concert is based on its own merit, the crowd it attracts, and the livability of it. We usually bring in $25- to $30,000 entertainment, and there’s usually a contribution to your tax base.”

After hearing all the input from the floor, an approximate 40-minute ordeal, Commission Chair Jim Sherrod called for a motion from someone on the board. Hugh Foskey provided it, moving to deny the application. Desse Davis seconded, and the vote was a unanimous 5-0 denial.

With the highlight of the meeting finished, a majority of the room cleared out as the commission continued onto its other agenda items.

Two important items remained: the purchase of replacement scales at the transfer station and adopting an ordinance to solidify Emanuel as a Broadband-Ready Community.

County Administrator Guy Singletary presented quotes from ScaleSouth to replace both sets of scales at the transfer station. These scales are used for loading and weighing trucks. One of the current scales is out of order while the other needs repairs that would cost 15 to 20 percent of what the purchase of a replacement scale would cost. The county’s current scales at the transfer station are around 30 years old. ScaleSouth has been the county’s go-to for these needs in the past. For two new sets, the total would be in the ballpark of $120,000. The scales generate some $600,000 for the county annually. Hearing this, Keith Thompson motioned to make the purchase, Davis seconded, and the vote was 5-0 again.

In regard to the Broadband-Ready title, Singletary informed the council Pineland would be seeking a grant to provide service to the only part of the Emanuel area it cannot cover currently—a tiny part of Summertown. In order to expand its fiber network in this way, Emanuel needed to be certified as a Broadband-Ready Community with an ordinance. In order to be considered a community of that stature through the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, a particular area must complete an online application and demonstrate compliance with the adoption of a comprehensive plan inclusive of the promotion of the deployment broadband services.

Also at the meeting, the commissioners unanimously approved the minutes from a meeting held May 17 and announced a vacancy on the Department of Family and Children Services board. Persons who would like to serve on the DFCS board should send their letters of interest to the county office.

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