The Safety Review Board, which may or may not already exist, has huge problems, but its method of enforcement is revealing.
The idea is that the Safety Review Board can demand compliance by threatening bar and restaurant owners who have had a violent incident in or near their premises with the full enforcement of state and city laws.
But that only makes sense if the city and state are not currently enforcing all the laws and regulations on the books. If the city and state were, it would be an idle threat.
One long time bar and restaurant owner said that the city could close down every bar and restaurant that serves alcohol in the city any time it wanted. The owner said that there were so many laws and regulations that no business followed them all. He added that some were contradictory, which means you have to pick one or the other because you can’t do both.
It would appear that the city believes this to be true because, if all the laws, ordinances and regulations were being enforced, what kind of threat does the Safety Review Board have? “If you don’t comply we are going to keep doing exactly what we are doing now.” Even in the twisted world of municipal government that doesn’t make any sense.
But whoever came up with the idea of the Safety Review Board believes that threatening to enforce already existing state laws and city ordinances will be enough to force restaurants that serve alcohol and bars to hire more security guards, install metal detectors or even keep a list of everyone that enters the premises to handover to the Police Department.
City Councilmember Justin Outling, who is a partner in the Brooks Pierce law firm, said that the Safety Review Board memo was written to look like an ordinance. He said, “It’s a very smokescreen type move. To a non-attorney it looks like an ordinance.”
He added, “But it’s not an ordinance and it doesn’t exactly require compliance.”
Of course, if it were an ordinance and someone was found to have violated that ordinance, the case would go to a judge. The person charged with violating the ordinance, if they didn’t agree with the decision of that judge, could appeal the case to a higher court.
Since it isn’t an ordinance, and, as Outling said, technically people don’t have to comply, people also don’t have any right of appeal.
Perhaps even a larger problem is the precedent it sets. A group of city employees, without the approval or even discussion by the Greensboro City Council, can form a board and then threaten business owners with dire consequences if they don’t comply with whatever this group of city employees wants them to do.
Imagine the havoc a Planning Review Board or a Transportation Review Board could wreak on economic development in the city. Developers who didn’t buckle under to whatever the board of city employees demanded could see their plans constantly moved to the bottom of the pile. A simple typographical error could hold up plan approval for months or maybe years.
Is the current Greensboro City Council willing to cede its power to unappointed boards made up of city employees?
It appears the answer is, yes.
(Since this editorial was written, an item concerning the Safety Review Board has been added to the City Council agenda for the Tuesday, Dec. 21 meeting.)