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Monday, December 28, 2009

Sneads Town Council Meeting

By Bo McMullian

Jason Milsapp, owner of The Landing Bar and Grill, was not happy about the Sneads town council vote Tuesday night, but he narrowly escaped a worse outcome. The council decided unanimously to set audible noise limits outside the bar but still allow amplified music inside after all.

Asked after the meeting if he could comply with the 30-foot hearing limit, Milsapp said, “I have no idea; I’ll try.” Asked to name a point, on a 1-10 scale on how satisfied he was on the action taken, he said, “Zero.”

He better try hard to comply. Sneads Police Chief Burt McAlpin confirmed after the meeting that the first visit police have to make after a complaint will result in a notice to appear in court. If the officer has to return and hears more excessive noise, an arrest can be made for the violation of a second degree misdemeanor. Assistant State Attorney Greg Wilson said during the meeting that one warning could be given before the court summons is issued.

The special meeting of the council had been called for the consideration of an ordinance that would have banned all amplified music from being played inside an establishment selling alcohol, whether from a band, a karaoke machine, a juke box or a radio. Some 70 complaints from homeowners living close to the bar have been made concerning noise and disturbances during the past several months. All five council members made it clear Tuesday that they have “had it up to here,” as Ricky Whittington said, with the unrest. And that’s putting it mildly. Whittington also said he had been threatened over the telephone by supporters of the bar.

The council was clearly reluctant to pass so restrictive an ordinance. Twice Chairman Mike Weeks called for a motion to adopt and got no response. Although they were sick and tired of the controversy that has been going on for more than six months, they were sympathetic to the pleas from Milsapp and several of his employees not to ban amplified music. They said that would close the bar since business relies heavily on live country and rock bands performing on the weekends.

Marianna attorney John Y. Roberts, representing Milsapp, made impassioned pleas for the council to not effectively shut down the bar. “I ask the council to look at Mr. Milsapp and his family who are here tonight,” he said. “It’s Christmas time and closing the establishment would mean they won’t be able to pay their bills.”

Roberts distributed a fact sheet showing the number of employees at 23, the amount paid to them since June at $11,103, a $10,485 entertainment expense and money paid to vendors at $12,374 since then. Six or more local bands have helped put the average number of customers at 50 on Thursday night and 100 to 150 on Friday and Saturday nights, according to the report. From 50 to 60 meals are served daily. Milsapp took out a loan of $32,000 from the Bank of Bonifay to open the club, Roberts said, and pays $2,000 a month in rent alone.

Councilman Jimmy Wright was unmoved by the economic defense. “The families in their homes have spent a lot of money too, building those houses. They deserve a little peace and quiet. The homeowners were there first.”

Wright also discussed another point that has tried the council’s patience. After neighbors complained and the police have made the bar turn the volume down, the volume has gone back up when the homeowners, council members who responded, or police have left the premises. “We go down there,” Wright said, “and somehow it seems like once we turn the corner the noise goes down. When we leave, it goes back up.”

“It got better for awhile,” Chairman Weeks said, “we asked you to turn it down but is hasn’t come to that. I’m tired of hearing this. The police department calls are not bogus. Somethings got to be done and tonight’s the night.”

Still, after listening to Roberts, Milsapp, members of Milsapp’s family and the employees about their children and their bills, council members were not inclined to pass an outright ban on the amplified music.

Roberts asked the council for more time in which he could meet with the council and work something out.

“We put a committee together six months ago,” Councilman Greg Lewis said, “and nothing happened.”

Chief McAlpin, who said he resented accusations of his officers having “selective hearing” on noise levels, asked the council to “set some limits” or to do something “we could agree on.”

Councilman Donovan Weeks then asked city attorney Guy Green if the ordinance could be changed to allow amplified music but for that music not to be heard more than 30 feet from outside the building. Green said the council could do whatever it wanted in that regard. ASA Wilson said his office would back the town up and prosecute any offenders. “The first offense would carry a fine of up to $500 or up to 60 days in jail,” he said.

“I’d rather go with the 30 feet than to close it down,” Councilman Wright said. Then a motion was made to put in the distance limit and the ordinance was passed 5-0.

Of particular persuasiveness to the council were the statements from homeowners within one block of the bar, Joyce Medley, Bobby Forrester and Charles Kleiser, a minister.

“I live across the street from the bar,” Forrester said. “My wife and I are greatly disturbed by the noise. It has gotten to the point her work at Apalachee Correctional Institution is affected. I have to lay in my bed until 12 a.m. or later until I can go to sleep. All I want is peace and quiet. I place this burden (for action) on my city council.”

Kleiser said he took offense at the police and others calling most of the 70 complaints “unfounded.”

“I’m not a liar,” he said. “Not one time has there been an unfounded call from me. I’ve read from the police log and there doesn’t seem to be any cooperation (from the owner). In fact, just the opposite is the case.”

Chief McAlpin reported during the meeting that Milsapp had gotten into an argument with Forrester earlier this month and had indeed said the following words to Forrester: “I’m tired of being nice. Since you keep complaining about the noise, I’m going to show you how loud it could have been all this time.”

Stay tuned, all ears in Sneads will be turned to “The Landing” this weekend.

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