March 22, 2007

Happy hour-less Athens?

Athens-Clarke County is considering banning happy hour specials at bars and other locations. Concerned voice in my head goes "WTFFTWWTFBBQ!"

I ask you: what kind of college town would Athens be without (insert bar name here)'s Happy Hour specials? Fried pickles just aren't the same without cheap beer. Moreover, who wants to drop more than ten dollars a night doing that?

Certainly not I.

I direct you to Blake Aued's post at Online Athens:

Much has been made of news that Athens-Clarke County is considering banning Happy hours and other drink specials.

Readers have raised some questions about how the story was reported and the county’s system of government. Allow me to explain.

Athens has a “weak mayor” system in which unelected employees are fairly autonomous from elected officials. The commission sets policy, and the staff carries it out, but many policies come from the ground up.

The commission doesn’t operate like Congress. Commissioners don’t make laws. Sometimes they ask the manager, attorney or a department head to look into an issue and come up with ideas, then use that as a starting point, send it back for polishing and eventually vote on it. More often, unelected officials, in this case Police Chief Jack Lumpkin, Finance Director John Culpepper and Attorney Bill Berryman, identify a problem and come up with a solution on their own, then seek approval from the commission.

So it was not unusual that “staff,” as commissioners refer to the 1,500-strong county bureaucracy, would propose such changes.

They did so at a work session last week, which is the first step toward making a change, and usually the first time commissioners hear about anything coming to them from staff. Work sessions are held once a month, and are usually consist of informal presentations and discussion.

If the issue is complicated, it may be assigned to one of two standing committees or an ad hoc committee appointed by the mayor that will make a recommendation to the full commission.

This one is complicated – a wholesale revision of dozens of provisions in the county code.

One thing I always think about before I write a story is, “How does this affect people?” and “Why would anyone care about this?” The only people who would care about minor changes to alcohol licensing fees are the 300 people who hold such a license. Only those seeking employment as doormen, and to a lesser extent 18-to-20-year-olds, would be affected by background checks for doormen.

On the other hand, everyone who might ever walk into a bar after work would wonder why his PBR isn’t a dollar anymore. That’s why that part of the proposal got more attention than the others.

Once it’s mostly sorted out, the proposal goes to an agenda-setting meeting, where commissioners decide whether it’s controversial enough to discuss, or whether it should be put on the consent agenda, a list of items with unanimous support. Finally, one month to several years after it’s first mentioned, the item will be voted on.

In other words, we have a long way to go with these alcohol reforms, and I suspect the happy hour ban might not be in it when it’s finally passed. Reporters often hear about things at the same time or even before commissioners, so we often get out ahead of the story. That’s good – we try to let you know what’s going on as soon as we can. But it can also lead to situations like this where things get blown out of proportion.

Original story available here: Officials may kill off happy hour specials (This is the printable version of the article, I don't know if you are required to have a login for it as you are for the normal article.)

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