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Oxford Aldermen discuss revoking outdoor dining licenses

Restaurant and bar owners in the downtown district will not get many more chances to keep their outdoor dining licenses, according to the City of Oxford.

During a special meeting called on Monday, the Board of Aldermen discussed potentially revoking licenses of several establishments that have been found in violation of the city’s emergency resolution and Serving Oxford Safely plan.

No formal action was taken by the Board, but the number of citations and second chances restaurants will be allowed to have before the license is revoked was heavily discussed.

“We were very clear, I think and as this Board knows, that those who were participating in outdoor dining that it’s privilege and it was our goal to raise the money and to pay for it so that it would be cost-free for those who were participating,” Oxford Mayor Robyn Tannehill said. “We stated that our expectations, since the bars and restaurants are being provided this extra space to increase the capacity at, number one, an inconvenience to the businesses around them and also to the citizens of Oxford for use of sidewalks and parking spots, that we expected these restaurants and bar owners to be exemplary citizens in obeying these safety measures that are in place.”

The Oxford Police Department issued four city ordinance violations over the weekend from Oct. 9 to 11.

Restaurants and bars are to allow no more than 75 percent of maximum capacity and to ensure tables are placed at least six-feet apart from one another. Those restrictions were included in Governor Tate Reeves’ latest executive order, which runs through Nov. 11.

During a special meeting on Oct. 1, the Board voted to adhere to Reeve’s orders and not enforce stricter restrictions on restaurants, bars and businesses.

“(The executive order) is something that everyone should be going by, and you can look at Snapchat and Instagram and see that is not the case,” Tannehill said.

The Board had a list of establishments that have received citations by OPD and were found not complying with the orders. The discussion shifted to whether or not the Board would use the previously-issued citations as cause to revoke an establishment’s outdoor dining license, or to start with a clean slate.

The Board did not vote, but decided to go with a clean slate and stated that any citations issued starting on Oct. 12 moving forward would be considered as justification to revoke an outdoor dining license.

Another issue that was discussed and not clear to some on the board was the number of citations it would take to lose a license and what behaviors necessitate the issue of a citation.

“It needs to be a clear violation of overcrowdedness,” Alderman John Morgan said. “The only reason I have hesitation of one (violation) is that I think they could go into any of these places any night of the week and find a violation. … It’s not that hard, is what I’m saying. People stand up to go talk to somebody and then you tell them to sit down.”

Alderman Janice Antonow reminded the Board of the reason the Serving Oxford Safely plan and Reeves’ executive orders exist in the first place.

Antonow said she was also in favor of starting with a clean slate, but limiting it to only one more citation issued to establishments before the license can come up for consideration to be revoked by the Board.

“We need to keep in mind why we have these rules in place to begin with. We’re trying to stem the spread of a deadly virus,” Antonow said. “We’re going to give people multiple chances to violate these guidelines, that the Governor has issued, and just say, ‘Okay, you can do it another time and spread another 100 cases.’ It’s a safety issue. It’s not just an arbitrary list of guidelines.”

Several restaurant owners were in attendance during the open meeting, including Scott Michael of Rooster’s Bar and Grill as well as Rafters owner, Hudson Chadwick. Although a public hearing was not scheduled for the meeting, the Board offered those owners in attendance a chance speak on the matter. No one took the Board up on their offer.