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Oxford alcohol ordinance change removes event performer notification

By Keerthi Chandrashekar

The Oxford Board of Aldermen has removed a requirement from the proposed alcohol safety ordinance requiring The Lyric to notify Oxford of event performers and promoters in the city’s latest attempt to fix the divisive bill.

The permit requirement for The Lyric has been one of the most controversial portions of the proposed alcohol and safety ordinance, with many citizens and business owners voicing concerns about potential censorship on the kinds of events The Lyric can entertain.

“That was never our motive. The Lyric is a place that isn’t open all week and sometimes is open every night for a week. It’s just so that we can staff appropriately,” Oxford Mayor Robyn Tannehill said in an interview with the EAGLE.

“The insinuation that this has any intent of being racially motivated or having any intent of violating anybody’s first amendment rights is jarring to me and is offensive,” Tannehill said, referring to the fact that a shooting incident at the venue in April occurred at a predominantly African-American event.

In response to the allegation that the ordinance is a hasty reply to the April Lyric incident, the mayor stated that while it was an impetus for bringing the ordinance to public discussion, the original form had been drafted before, back in October 2017 with input from many local business owners, including Bradley Bishop of The Lyric. The EAGLE was unable to confirm an October 2017 draft by press time due to the nature of public records requests.

The most current ordinance draft requires The Lyric to furnish the city with a notice prior to an event containing the property owner’s information, the type of event, the security company’s information, and whether or not alcohol will be sold. Previously, The Lyric had to also include the organizer’s, promoter’s and band’s or performer’s names. In a July Oxford Board of Aldermen meeting, Oxford Police Chief Joey East stated that such information could be used to confer with other law enforcement agencies about certain individuals who will be performing or attending events at The Lyric.

The latest change reflects the city’s ongoing discussion with the public regarding the ordinance. Although most agree there should be increased safety and more underage drinking deterrence, many have voiced dissatisfaction with the city’s public reveal of a bill that many business owners feel came from closed-door sessions rather than community input.

“We absolutely recognize the city and Oxford Police Department have a tough job. We believe their heart is in the right place to keep Oxford one of the safest college communities in America. We just disagree on the approach that they’re taking,” said Milton “Dee” Hobbs Jr., a lawyer from Harris Shelton who represents The Lyric.

Tannehill told the EAGLE that if she could change one thing about the introduction of the ordinance, it would be to have had more one-on-one meetings before publicly presenting the bill.

Tannehill also said that the city is no rush to push through the ordinance before the fall semester starts at Ole Miss or to coincide with the upcoming football season. She said the City of Oxford is willing to work on the ordinance as long as it takes with business owners and local citizens, and confirmed there will be no vote on at today’s Board of Aldermen meeting.

The latest ordinance draft also includes changes to camera and employee ID requirements. Businesses will now only have to have their cameras running during hours when they are open to the public and serving alcohol. Any information on employees or managers demanded by law enforcement will now have to be a “lawful” request.

Tannehill stressed that such language alterations reflect the city’s willingness to make a sustainable and fair ordinance and was not intended to create a big brother state. Instead, she hopes the ordinance is the beginning of an ongoing discussion in Oxford to combat a culture of alcohol abuse.

“As long as there is a thriving entertainment and bar industry here — and we want there to be — this is going to continue to be a problem we are going to have to address. It’s finding a balance of providing a safe environment for people to have fun in, but also to be responsible,” Tannehill said. “We are just looking for a partnership with our bars and restaurants to help us do that.”

The next public hearing for the proposed ordinance will be held at the Board of Aldermen meeting tonight at 5 p.m. at City Hall.