Release of entertainment license language causes confusion, angst

by Jordan Green

Greensboro City Councilman Zack Matheny has been leading a series of stakeholder meetings with nightclub owners, downtown business leaders and city staff to craft an entertainment license ordinance, but he said he was blindsided by the city legal department’s release of a draft ordinance and wouldn’t even support it himself if it came up for a vote.

“That’s what legal put together based on a synapsis of other cities,” he said. “I said, we need a stair-step approach based on the number of violent calls, and this doesn’t do this. I wouldn’t support the document that you’ve got.”

The draft ordinance gives the chief of police the authority to issue and revoke entertainment licenses — a direction Matheny supports. It only applies to establishments with a minimum capacity of more than 150 — also a facet that meets the councilman’s approval.

Where Matheny’s concept diverges from the draft ordinance is in a proposal that would have the chief revoke an entertainment license for a first-time offense of breaching the peace, defined as “an act that disturbs the public order, including, but not limited to assault, unlawful possession of dangerous or deadly weapons, discharge of firearms and homicide.”

“The stair-step approach would target those that have repeat violent incidents,” Matheny said. “It can’t be a normal fight. The repeat offenders, if they continue to do business in an unsafe environment for the people, then the answer would be yes, the city council and law enforcement would not want that business to continue.”

Matheny met with a group of nightclub operators, including Allure Night Life owner Rocco Scarfone and Lotus Lounge owner Paul Talley, along with at least one strip club operator, on March 14.

Based on copies of the draft ordinance circulated among the nightclub operators over the weekend and a favorable story in the Sunday News & Record, Scarfone and others in the business have reacted in alarm. Matheny said if he had known the draft had been released, he would have called them to reassure them he wouldn’t support its provisions. He said he didn’t know about the release because although the legal department sent out a heads-up e-mail to council members, they misspelled his name — a point of grievance in itself — and he never received it.

“I can honestly say that, talking to everyone that was in that meeting that we all feel that the trust has been hindered at this point,” Scarfone said.

“Myself and the other stakeholders are absolutely 110 percent very disappointed in the fact that we were told that we would 110 percent have input in this. To see it and read it in the paper and it be nothing that we discussed is pretty disturbing to us as business owners.”

Two shootings associated with establishments owned by Scarfone — one outside the N Club (since renamed Allure Night Life) and another in the parking lot of LAX Gentleman’s Club (now under new ownership) — touched off the city’s interest in developing an entertainment license ordinance in an attempt to curb violence.

Greensboro police Chief Ken Miller indicated he supports the initiative.

“Most of the aggravated assaults are in the parking lot,” Miller said on Monday. “Often times, you just push conflict out into the parking lot. If you look at the LAX incident last November, security guards ejected one guy and then they ejected the other guy. Look at club Plush out there on High Point Road. The same sort of scenario where everybody’s out in the parking lot and somebody got shot. A lot of people are carrying guns these days and it’s unfortunate. We can’t search every car that comes into the lot, and it wouldn’t be effective or a reasonable expectation to have the club owner do it. If you’re going to be ejecting some and holding some and making sure the first person leaves before you let the second one out, that can help. Even calling the police when you need them. That’s helpful. There’s a lot of different things that can happen productively and not all of them are being taken advantage of.”