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Club owners question possible security ordinance in Greensboro

by Eric Ginsburg

BY ERIC GINSBURG eric@yesweekly.com

Greensboro police attorney Jim Clark knew that club owners weren’t going to be happy with the entertainment facility use ordinance, which would change security rules for most entertainment venues that can hold more than 150 patrons.

“No matter the truth, the bar owners are going to complain that it’s one thing after another, so it makes sense to get the positive information in public view first to cut the wind from their sails,” he wrote in an e-mail, advocating that the city publicize what he said was the success of the noise ordinance before bringing the security ordinance to light.

The ordinance, which is not currently on city council’s agenda but which Clark expects to be discussed in November, is aimed at curbing violence and would require entertainment venues to adopt rules in a security-plan manual. Venues connected to the city, such as the Greensboro Coliseum, would be exempt under Clark’s draft, which is the city’s third attempt to create such an ordinance in recent years.

“I don’t see any reason to not turn around and state what we believe is the strongest possible reasons for wanting to pursue this to the public if we already know that no matter what we do people are going to oppose it,” Clark said in an interview. “Bar owners, for the most part, have made it clear they’re not interested in addressing [it]. When you’ve had the nature and kind and number of incidents that we’ve had with bars in the city over the span of time that we’re talking about, if there is a tool that GPD can use”¦ I think we’re going to take action.”

Downtown club owners said they continue to feel targeted by the city in the wake of the noise ordinance debates and implementation earlier this year, with some saying they are frustrated that their attempts to cooperate with the city haven’t been fruitful.

Amiel Rossabi, who represents people with financial interests in at least three affected venues, and downtown club owners Kenny Efird and Mike Carter said the proposed ordinance targets the wrong venues.

“It really seems with me that they want to do everything they can to have their hands in our business more and more,” said Carter, one of the owners of Syn and Sky on Elm Street. “I jumped through every hoop already. It just gets to be a bit much when they want to do a noise ordinance”¦ and to have to make sure that my security are good enough for the police chief and do I have enough staff to make him happy.”

Carter and Efird, who is one of Greene Street Club’s owners, said they haven’t had violent incidents inside their venues like the kind the city is worried about.

“They need to focus on the clubs that they’re having trouble with and leave us alone,” Efird said. “We’re running a tight ship. It’s just one hurdle after another to do business in the city of Greensboro.”

Efird questioned the wisdom of exempting venues with capacities under 150 and of the ordinance in general, saying that shootings had occurred at smaller strip clubs and the Greensboro Coliseum and that existing laws could be used to go after venues that were the problem. Pointing to the recent shooting at Steeplechase apartments in Adams Farm and at the Greensboro Youth Council event, Efird said clubs and bars were being unfairly singled out as the source of the problem.

Clark said he was in the process of revising the ordinance to cover sexually oriented businesses of all sizes and said the capacity designation was based on technical expertise and aimed at larger crowds that could prove more difficult to handle. The coliseum’s exemption made sense, he said, because the city already has the ability to control and regulate it and is trying to address venues it doesn’t currently have control over.

“From a crime-statistic standpoint, we don’t see that necessarily being the same situation with private clubs,” Clark said of violence at coliseum events.

The city has used Chapter 19 of the General Statutes to close down nuisance venues like illegal massage parlors in the past, Rossabi wrote to Clark and council in August, and could use it to target venues with security problems. Rossabi represents Rocco Scarfone, who has a stake in two affected venues, among others, and called the ordinance unnecessary and unlawful.

“You’ve got some venues that are less than 150 that have had a good deal of violence associated with them,” said Rossabi, who also referenced the Greensboro Youth Council carnival victim, a kid who he used to coach in soccer. “The ordinance doesn’t need to exist. It is a shortcut “” and an unconstitutional shortcut “” around the Chapter 19 statutes.”

Police chief Ken Miller and District 3 councilman Zack Matheny, who pushed for such an ordinance, could not be reached for comment on this story.

Miller e-mailed council members at their personal addresses about the ordinance, which at-large Councilwoman Nancy Vaughan said was not an attempt to avoid transparency through public-records requests because it was still sent from the chief’s work e-mail and said her personal address was faster.

Clark said Chapter 19 was more heavy-handed than the proposed ordinance and was difficult to use anyway.

“Chapter 19 is not the solution that Amiel [Rossabi] paints it,” Clark said. “It imposes some pretty strict requirements in order to be able to shut someone down permanently. The whole point of this legislation is not to be able to shut people down.”

Everyone has a vested interest in reducing violence and crime associated with clubs, Clark said, and that the city wasn’t attempting to tie anyone’s hands. He has been working on this draft of the ordinance for about a year and said it is completely unrelated to the noise ordinance, which he also helped craft.

“It’s not about going after particular clubs or particular people,” Clark said, adding that some owners had a positive working relationship with the city. “These are areas were we’ve experienced consistently criminal activity. A lot of club security seems to take the approach that if something happens inside the club, push it out the door and it becomes somebody else’s problem.”

The ordinance would attach adoption of a security-plan manual and approval of a venue’s security plan to the permitting process through the parks and recreation department rather than through the chief, Clark said. Security personnel would be required to be clearly identified and visible, registered through the state, on duty for 30 minutes after a venue closed, responsible for clearing the sidewalks at the end of the night and patrolling any adjacent parking lots.

Clark’s draft also sets a rate for the number of security personnel per patrons and would require security to follow certain procedures to break up fights including removing quarreling patrons at different times.

Carter said his security staff is made up of contract workers who aren’t licensed with the state and said the regulations were unnecessary because his venue hasn’t had problems.

“It’s a generally laid-back crowd,” he said. “We’re very lucky and our security will always tell you”¦ there isn’t much for them to do there.”

Part of the reason Carter said he feels like the city is too involved in his business stems from the noise ordinance, which was implemented in mid-July. As Clark suggested, the chief reported that the ordinance was a success “” he said that there haven’t been any complaints and that only three citations had been written to entertainment venues so far.

Even though repeated complaints from developer Roy Carroll aimed at Greene Street were the impetus for revisiting the ordinance in the first place, Carter said he’s been cited twice since the ordinance began and said even though one citation was supposed to be dropped, that hasn’t happened yet.

“It was just ridiculous,” Carter said.

“The one thing I was assured was that we weren’t a problem. And now I’m the one with two tickets on my desk. It’s added a lot of frustration and other things to worry about.”

Rossabi said the only response he received to his early August e-mail came from Matheny, who he hasn’t spoken with yet. Rossabi, Efird and Carter all said the ordinance was an unnecessary burden and characterized it as the city overstepping its role, but Rossabi said the city is interested in creating an open dialogue with the public. He said he was “very happy” about that possibility, that his clients were likely to participate in it and that he hoped it could solve their issues.

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