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Council at odds over liquor sales probations
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Establishments in violation

• El Potro Mexican restaurant — first violation.

• Sushi House — second violation, probation Nov. 15, 2007-Feb. 1, 2008.

• Vann’s — first violation under current management.

• Flash Foods #6 — third violation. Probation July 3, 2003 through Dec. 31 and Nov. 16, 2005-May 15, 2006.

• Food Lion #526 — second violation. Probation Dec. 16, 2004-Dec. 16, 2005.

• Handyland Exxon — second violation. Probation Oct. 18, 2001-Aug. 7, 2003 (put on probation with no expiration date).

• USA Gasoline #308 — second violation. Probation July 3, 2003-Dec. 31.
Representatives from a few of the seven establishments cited for selling alcohol to minors stood before the Hinesville City Council last week offering excuses and promises that “it won’t happen again.”
The businesses’ illegal exchanges were discovered by Hinesville Police Department during an undercover investigation.
Mayor Jim Thomas and the council had mixed views on probation terms for the violators after looking at the violation history of each business.
The last four establishments the council reviewed had either a six-month probation for first violations or a one-year probation for second or subsequent violations.
When the council considered a new probation term for Food Lion store No. 526, Councilman Keith Jenkins supported a six-month sentence, even though it’s the store’s second violation.
Jenkins said it had been four years since the store’s last violation, which should count for something.
“We need to make our probation violations consistent,” Thomas told the council. “I’m afraid that if we’re not consistent, we’ll be unfair to a company.”
Jenkins reconsidered and moved for a one-year probation term for Food Lion.
Councilman Bobby Ryon also wanted the council to consider Handyland Exxon’s clean record before deciding on disciplinary terms.
He moved to put Handyland on probation for six months, even though the store had two violations. Handyland’s last probation term ended in August 2003.
“We have to be mindful that we are not being arbitrary when we’re doing this,” Thomas said of the council’s disciplinary decisions.
“I know it’s arbitrary, but that’s a long time,” Ryon replied.
Mayor Pro Tem Charles Frasier seconded Ryon’s motion.
Councilman Kenneth Shaw was the only council member voting in opposition.
Frasier suggested the council set some guidelines, instead of a policy, to follow in the future when deciding probation terms.
“I would prefer that we adopt some guidelines so that we’re not rigid,” Frasier said. “We (won’t) have some leeway in the policy.”
City Attorney Linnie Darden III reminded the council that probation was not the same as punishment.
“Probation is simply requiring you to obey the law, which is what you’re required to do anyway,” Darden said.
He said it’s typical to have violations drop off after an extreme length of time.
“I think there is an issue and the guidelines could address that,” Darden said.
Thomas said a regular probation term will be made for the first, second and third violations. He suggested other guidelines for deciding how long the violations would stay on record.
Hinesville Police Department Det. Star Cpl. Tracey Howard, who thinks it’s average to have seven businesses in violation on the council agenda, said probation gets the stores’ attention.
“It’s slightly decreasing since we began the operation, which is indicative of businesses doing what they’re required to do,” Howard said. “I think that most of the store owners want to be in compliance with the law.”
But he said minors don’t just get a hold of alcohol though cashiers who don’t check for ID. They can get it at home and through third-party sales.
“I’ve seen the full gamut of it,” Howard said. “As long as there is a desire they’re going to utilize whatever means they can to obtain the alcohol.” 
Representatives of the establishments in violation were not required to attend last week’s meeting, but will be required when it comes time to renew their alcohol beverage license.
If the businesses are out of violation again during their probationary period, their license can be further restricted, suspended or revoked.
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