July 22, 2014 10:05:39 AM
Supervisors unanimously approved a new nightclub ordinance Monday that will require new bars, restaurants and entertainment venues in Oktibbeha County to obtain yearly operating permits and follow minimum life-safety standards.
The item was not listed on the board's agenda, but was brought up for discussion by District 2 Supervisor Orlando Trainer. Trainer asked if the board was willing to move on the issue after District 1 Supervisor John Montgomery's motion from a previous meeting died without a second.
Supervisors, including District 5's Joe Williams, spent about five minutes reading through the draft and held little discussion on the matter before approving it.
The new ordinance goes into effect in 30 days.
Oktibbeha County officials began drafting the new law after a March shooting injured five people at Club Rock, an establishment located a few miles outside Starkville on Rockhill Road.
As with previous drafts, the new law establishes clear operating hours -- noon to 1 a.m. -- and states patrons shall leave businesses' premises 30 minutes later.
Minimum safety standards are also set, as the law sets occupancy requirements -- 7 square feet of space per person in businesses without fixed seating and the number of seats with adequate aisles and clearances for fixed-seating establishments -- and requires a minimum of two points of egress from the facility's assembly area. Proper emergency lighting and signs are also required.
Prior to opening a new facility or hosting a special event at a current business, operators must obtain a $50 permit from the Oktibbeha County Sheriff's Department, which will weigh the application against any incidents occurring in the past year and other known violations of the law at the location.
A regulations committee may temporarily suspend permits after only one violation of the new ordinance and may permanently revoke them after two violations within a year or three total infractions. A business may not provide entertainment, including amplified music and dancing, while their permits are suspended or revoked. If it does, the county could then revoke its privilege license and certificate of occupancy.
Ordinance violations are considered a misdemeanor and carry a mandatory $500 minimum fine, 90 days in jail, or both. If any court determines that violations are felonious in nature, the ordinance states, they will then supercede those provisions.
Sheriff Steve Gladney praised the board for its action and said the new rules would allow deputies to protect residents at nightclubs before they enter the building, rather than once on scene during an emergency call.
Supervisors have criticized Club Rock through the years due to the number of emergency calls stemming from incidents at the nightclub. During the county's first meeting after the March shooting, District 3 Supervisor Marvell Howard said the business "hands down...has the worst track record over a period of time than of any other establishment" in District 2.
A temporary injunction against the nightclub was previously granted after deputies received information that a retaliatory shooting was planned and ready to be carried out at the location.
Based on witness interviews, investigators believe a crowd of approximately 1,000 people were gathered at Club Rock on March 30 when at least 20 gunshots from three separate areas of the facility's parking lot were fired.
Investigators began developing leads through community chatter, or second-hand information, after uncooperative witnesses yielded few clues.
No arrests have been made in connection with the March shooting.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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