Forsyth County commissioners gridlocked Tuesday following a debate on changing its method of sanctioning alcohol license holders.
The county’s alcohol code requires those cited for a violation to appear before the board of commissioners, which determines the fate of a server’s sales permit or a business’ license.
Both are based on a cumulative scale, with required suspensions, fines or other measures becoming more severe for additional violations. The ultimate penalty is loss of license.
The board had indicated a desire to increase the flexibility of issuing penalties to license holders at a previous work session, said County Attorney Ken Jarrard.
“This is not the alcohol sales permit holders — basically the waiters and waitresses. We’re talking about here the actual license holders,” Jarrard said.
“What’s been happening is that we have some administrative sanctions come through. It’s not that big of a deal. … Then we’ve got an underage sale and cumulatively, they amount to a big potential sanction.”
An upcoming administrative hearing for a license holder of a south Forsyth restaurant has been postponed three times now, and commissioners referenced the business as an example of those penalties.
The upcoming hearing will review the business’ fourth violation in two years, but only one of those has been for an underage sales violation.
Under the county’s code, all violations are viewed equally in terms of the cumulative scale.
“They can’t be all lumped together, but that’s the way it is right now,” Chairman Brian Tam said.
Administrative violations could include an expired license, offering an illegal drink special or having an employee without a sales permit on premises.
The board appeared to agree on the matter of separating those types of violations from underage sales of alcohol, but an amendment giving the board flexibility in levying punishments resulted in a 2-2 vote, with Commissioner Todd Levent absent.
The tie must be broken at the next work session when all five members are present.
The board split on the issue of mitigating circumstances, which Tam explained could include new business policies, training for employees or other measures that may persuade the board to adopt a lesser sanction.
Commissioners Patrick Bell and Jim Boff voted against allowing mitigating circumstances to factor into both hearings for underage sales and administrative violations.
“If they have consecutive underage sales in 24 months, they don’t need to be doing business here,” said Bell.
Tam, who has more than 25 years’ experience in the food service industry, said the option of some flexibility should remain intact.
“Under your proposal, you’re handcuffed and you have to take [the alcohol license] away no matter what,” Tam said. “The owner isn’t the one selling it … If an employee makes a mistake, it’s the owner that can be put out of business. Therefore, there can be mitigating circumstances.”
Amos agreed with Tam: “The owner can’t watch every transaction,” he said.
The board also discussed another change to the alcohol code that could allow for a currently illegal method of selling beer through growlers.
A growler, or glass jug, carries four pints of draft beer and can be brought back empty to a business in exchange for another.
Recent applicants for a business license discovered their plan for a growler store had an obstacle in the county’s code. The applicants approached commissioners to ask if they would consider changing the code to allow growler sales.
The board directed staff to look into any health concerns and the issue of transporting the product without violating open container laws.