City moves forward with entertainment security ordinance

by Eric Ginsburg

Anewly formed Greensboro City Council task force met last week to hear from Police Chief Ken Miller about the proposed entertainment security ordinance that has several venue owners up in arms, but the ones who attended the meeting weren’t allowed to speak.

The task force, consisting of councilmembers Jim Kee, Marikay Abuzuaiter and Zack Matheny — the task force chair and the one who spearheaded the effort for such an ordinance, set a meeting for Nov. 29 at 10:30 a.m. to hear from residents rather than give the small handful of attendees the floor as the meeting wound down. Perennial council critic George Hartzman, venue owner Eric Robert and Greene Street Club owners Robbie and Kenny Efird attended the meeting, and Robert said Kee had invited him to the meeting to speak.

“He invited me and said that he wanted to hear from all sides,” Robert said. “At the end [Kee] said that Zack was the chairman and that it was up to Zack.”

Both Kee and Abuzuaiter said they would like to hear from the attendees at the meeting but Matheny shot the idea down, stating he wanted to keep the meetings close to an hour. He relented after Abuzuaiter reiterated Kee’s request saying she wanted to hear directly from venue owners.

“I’ve heard most of it already, and I think y’all should,” Matheny said.

The meeting was dedicated to a Powerpoint presentation by Miller, who explained how the ordinance would function and why it was necessary, utilizing images and video of violence outside of several venues to illustrate his point.

Parking-lot violence often follows patron “dumping,” the chief said, as security tosses a conflict outside the venue doors, and uncooperative club personnel have directly interfered with investigations by destroying crime scenes and lying about shootings.

The ordinance, which is in its third iteration after previous drafts failed to garner sufficient support and were met by stiff resistance from club owners, would require several types of venues to adhere to a security-plan manual. Venues would have to comply with a permitting process through the planning and community-development department, allowing the city to move more quickly to shut down establishments with uncooperative owners or habitual problems through the quasi-judicial board of adjustments.

According to Miller’s presentation, 58 venues would be affected, though the list provided contained at least a few establishments that are closed and may have missed others that would be affected. Since 2010, there have been 3 murders, 59 aggravated assaults — which includes stabbings and shootings — and 6,346 calls for service from venues that would be covered in the ordinance, Miller said.

Two of the three murders occurred in 2010, first at Zion Bar and later at Plush — which is now closed — while the most recent happened at the Players’ Club on Feb. 18, 2011.

A fourth club-related homicide occurred at Club Drink, the chief said, but the venue would not have been impacted by the ordinance because its capacity was 148. The original capacity threshold of 100 was opposed by club owners who said it was too restrictive, the chief said, so the ordinance was rewritten even though he said only five venues were between the 100 and 150 range.

In addition to increasing patron safety, one of the goals of the ordinance is reducing the call load on the police department. While there would be more work for the police and planning departments on the front end, police are confident it would translate to less work and “great dividends” in terms of safety, police spokesperson Susan Danielsen said.

Abuzuaiter asked if the high volume of calls reflected noise complaints related to venues.

“I don’t believe the noise ordinance calls are in there,” Miller said. “I don’t believe we factored that.”

Greene Street, which was the primary target of complaints from developer Roy Carroll that fueled the new noise ordinance earlier in the year, had significantly more calls than any other venue in the last two years according to a chart in Miller’s presentation. Arizona Pete’s 441 calls for service seem petty next to 702 from Greene Street, while Carolina Mexican Restaurant, Inferno and Lotus Lounge were the only other venues to hit 300.

Greene Street owner Kenny Efird said the call volume could only be that high due to noise ordinance complaints, saying that Carroll has called the police every night the club has been open, and even some nights they haven’t. On Nov. 15, police arrived at Greene Street after a complaint from Carroll, Efird said, only to issue a citation to One17 next store. A week prior an officer responding to a complaint that he said came from Carroll told Efird that he wasn’t even going to do a decibel reading because it was so quiet, and Efird said police arrived after Carroll called on Oct. 24, a night the club wasn’t even open.

“Based on what the officers are telling us, the day-to-day officers, he calls every single time we’re open, and sometimes three or four times a night,” Efird said. “I don’t know when enough is enough. It’s harassment. There’s got to be some kind of penalty.”

The only citation Greene Street has received since the new noise ordinance took effect came the night before the trial period ended and Miller was to present to council, Efird said, adding that police were outside for nearly an hour and took three readings before citing them for music at 76 decibels, one decibel over the threshold. Efird said the entertainment security ordinance unfairly targets venues like his that aren’t the problem and whose owners already feel like they are under attack.

“All the violent crime Chief Miller was talking about only takes one person,” Efird said. “I’ve seen some knock-down and drag-outs at Stumble’s and Wahoo’s and Kickback Jack’s [which are exempt]. We’ve never had one incident here with a knife or a gun or anything violent like that since we opened. Why not just target the ones that are starting the trouble?” Many of the calls for service could indicate proactive club owners cooperating with police and informing them about things like people caught drinking underage. None of the calls related to Greene Street were connected to murder, rape or robbery, though there were more calls for indecent conduct/exposure than all other venues combined and far more alcohol violations.

Efird has said the ordinance unfairly burdens club owners like him who haven’t had violent incidents and exempts smaller venues where a significant number of stabbings and shootings have occurred.

As part of his presentation, Miller named several venues that had attempted to destroy crime scene evidence, all of which are closed except for Allure. Miller said there was a shooting inside in early September and that police found employees trying to clean up evidence and said employees denied it occurred.

Danielsen said police responded as patrons rushed out and said there was a shooting but that employees said it was “firecrackers” before ABC officers “noticed heavy smell of marijuana and located evidence of a shooting” but that a victim wasn’t found.

Amiel Rossabi, the lawyer represent ing Allure and numerous other venues in town, said they invited police in and showed them a casing but said there was no evidence there was a shooting inside. Miller referred to a prior shooting at the same venue, and Rossabi said he didn’t know what the chief was talking about.

“With all due respect to Ken Miller, what the hell is he doing talking about a shooting that happened outside of Allure a block and a half away?” Rossabi asked. “Staff did deny that there had been a shooting, because there hadn’t been a shooting.”

Rossabi said the managers have been hit with bogus charges in the past, but if he inquired about the incident, police wouldn’t provide information and would cite an ongoing investigation.

Club owner Lawrence Chandler also disputed Miller’s narrative of club violence. Chandler’s now defunct venue, the Greensboro Events Forum, was one of the uncooperative businesses Miller cited, saying, a security guard survived a gunshot to the head and showing the security video of the shooting in the meeting.

“I just had a meeting with him yesterday to correct that, with him and vice narcotics and my landlord,” Chandler said the day of the meeting. “At first he kept saying [the victim] was dead. I informed him that the guy who was shot was not my security guard and he did not work for me.”

The victim, who was not wearing anything that identified him as security in the video, had thrown an event at Chandler’s venue without his permission and began arguing with an attendee who eventually shot at him several times, Chandler said.

Charges stemming from the incident against Chandler were dropped in March, he said, adding that he voluntarily turned the surveillance footage over to police. Despite disagreements in the narrative of the shooting, Chandler said he supports the proposed ordinance.

“I even told Chief Miller yesterday that I would be his spokesperson,” he said. “I have friends on the police force so I understand what they have to go through.

I think it’s a good idea. I just wish that they would make sure that they say the right information about my facility.”

Chandler, who is trying to open a different venue that wouldn’t serve alcohol, said he voluntarily submitted a security plan to the city even though the ordinance hasn’t been voted on yet.

Robert said Miller was trying to use sensationalist footage like the shooting outside the Greensboro Events Forum to make his case.

“It was almost like Reefer Madness, when you show people that if you smoke a little weed that you go crazy,” Robert said. “I understand what he’s trying to do because he’s having a really hard time generating outrage and support.”

Robert said that the arbitrary nature of which venues were excluded would give his competition an advantage. Robert, who owns the Mill on South Elm near Lee Street, hopes to open a high-end event space but said competitors like the Proximity Hotel would be exempt.

“They try many times to get support and they don’t get it,” Robert said.

“[Miller] wants the power to shut people down, and constitutionally he cannot have that power, so instead he is giving it to Sue Schwartz.”

Schwartz, the head of the community and planning department, would oversee the permitting process. She could not be reached for comment. Miller said the ordinance was not designed to place an unfair burden on club owners and that past outcry about the teen curfew and noise ordinance turned out to be much ado about nothing. Miller said the security ordinance is similar, and would allow the police to focus their efforts elsewhere by improving safety and decrease the call load at such venues.