The Oxford Board of Aldermen postponed a planned vote on the highly contentious alcohol safety ordinance at its monthly meeting Tuesday night.
Board member Janice Antonow suggested the delay, citing substantive unread emails from citizens regarding the ordinance that were received as recently as earlier that day.
“In fairness to the people who sent these emails, I think we really need to postpone the vote for two weeks so that we have a chance to consider some of the information,” Antonow said.
The board agreed, and the vote will be held at a later date.
More than half of the audience got up from their seats and left the room immediately when the vote was postponed. Many had anticipated a vote Tuesday night.
Mayor Robyn Tannehill made her own statement regarding unread comments from concerned citizens while introducing the item on the agenda.
“I have received numerous emails — that I haven’t even gotten to read yet — from people as late as 10 minutes before I walked into this meeting, and we’re continuing to read and continuing to be thoughtful about the input that we’ve received from all of you,” Tannehill said.
Although no vote occurred, two changes were made to the proposal.
Alderman Rick Addy proposed removing a phrase from Section 14-103 that would require businesses covered under the section to pay a $75 processing fee for events with 150 people or more.
After a request from Antonow, a sentence about security cameras was added back to the ordinance. That sentence in Section 14-100 had been included in a previous draft and was previously removed because of its unclear wording.
The sentence now reads, “Other than minimum footage required during an inspection to determine whether the cameras are present and functioning properly, video footage shall not be required to be turned over to the authorities absent a lawful order for such production.”
The revision requests from Addy and Antonow were accepted.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi issued a lengthy statement on Tuesday addressing problems it has with same sections of the ordinance that were brought up by aldermen in the meeting.
“We believe the ordinance poses a serious threat to the constitutional rights of Oxford’s citizens and UM students, including, but not limited to, the rights to privacy and freedom of association,” the statement read in regards to the provisions requiring mandatory surveillance cameras.
That letter also addressed the section that requires venues to “ notify the police chief five days in advance of the event and pay a $75 dollar processing fee per event,” reporting that it “appears to be specifically targeted at an Oxford business known for its events sponsored by and for Oxford’s black students and citizens.”
Dee Hobbs, an attorney with the Harris Shelton law firm who is representing several bar and restaurant owners, said he was pleased that the vote was postponed and the revisions were made.
“But we still have concerns about … the ordinance, like the fact that every public access area of a bar or restaurant is going to have to be covered by a camera,” Hobbs said. “To be quite candid, some of my bigger clients can absorb that cost, but I think it’ll put a lot of the smaller ones in Oxford out of business.”
Tonight’s meeting comes at a time in which the board is receiving criticism from local organizations and businesses.
Hobbs released a letter on behalf of several Oxford businesses on Tuesday afternoon raising concerns with the ordinance. It was undersigned by The Lyric Oxford, Round Table, The Levee, Southern Craft Stove + Tap, Lenora’s Restaurant, Funkys Pizza & Daiquiri Bar, Proud Larry’s and The Library Sports Bar.
The letter’s primary focus was the proposed surveillance camera measures and asked that the city of Oxford and board of aldermen research the cost-effectiveness in the same manner the businesses would if they were to purchase them independently.
“The city has stated that many of the bars and restaurants already have enough cameras, but this is not true, based on the breadth of the proposed ordinance,” the statement said. “Several bars and restaurants have received quotes of $10,000 to $20,000 for these broad camera requirements. It is likely that city-wide installation costs will exceed six figures.”
Businesses also took issue with the provision requiring every public access area of a bar to be surveyed by a camera, arguing that it is “a substantial and unwelcome invasion into our patrons’ privacy.”
“There is legitimate concern that some patrons simply will not visit the Square rather than subject their every movement to surveillance,” the businesses’ statement said. “The fact that no top-50 U.S. metropolitan area requires private camera systems in bars and restaurants is telling.”