Despite the many changes that have come to downtown Rome over the years, one constant remains: If you want to start a debate just ask permission to raise a beer on Broad Street.
In this case, a beer (or spirit of your choice) in an open container while walking down the street.
So, a letter from the Alcohol Control Commission recently recommended the City Commission consider a temporary open container ordinance in the downtown area.
Yes, yes, yes we just went through this a couple of years ago in 2017. The measure didn’t get a second and then the City Commission voted 7-1 to oppose the ordinance.
We have several different commissioners now, and this time it made it into the second reading phase, so there’s that.
Taking into account the different makeup of the commission and weighing likely votes, let’s be honest. It’s likely not going to pass again.
But let’s look at some of the issues involved anyway, because it merits discussion.
This really isn’t an alcohol issue; alcohol already exists in good quantity downtown. It’s more of a personal responsibility issue. The real question comes down to this, do you believe people can act responsibly?
There are a lot of other issues that come into play but that’s really the crux of the argument.
Here’s one thing to remember: public drinking does not necessarily equal public drunkenness.
If passed, having an open container on Broad Street would simply allow people to carry an adult beverage (again, enter your personal preference here) while moving around on Broad Street. It doesn’t equate to people falling down drunk all along Broad Street.
There are still laws in place concerning public intoxication, driving while under the influence, as well as having an open container of alcohol in your vehicle.
Being able to carry an alcoholic beverage on Broad Street simply allows people to move freely around with their beverages. If people take that too far, there are legal consequences.
However, who will be there to enforce those consequences? This is where we get into the details.
Rome police aren’t on board with the idea at this point and honestly we can’t blame them. Their issue with the idea is primarily one concerning staffing. They’re down nine positions right now, and some of the people they’re counting as officers are still in training.
That’s nearly an entire shift of police officers they’re not able to fill right now. So if anything does happen, those people who are patrolling other areas of the city aren’t going to be there when you need them.
Proponents say we can look at the downtown block parties and point to the lack of issues at those events over the past few years. But, the Downtown Development Authority hires officers to be present at those events, nipping any issue in the bud.
Here’s the equation: party + police presence = people act responsibly. Party – police presence = people don’t act responsibly.
So we’re back to personal responsibility.
Like many other laws and ordinances, it boils down to personal responsibility. There will always be people who adhere to the law and those who do not. Will there be people who stumble around drunk on Broad Street? Sure.
Does that already happen? Yes. Do people get arrested for public drunk? Yes. What will change if a temporary ordinance is passed? Maybe not that much.
If we can look internally for good examples of what an open container district ordinance might bring, we can also look externally.
Our commissioners have been directed to look at other cities as examples. Savannah comes up often, because it’s one of the most well known Georgia cities where people can carry alcoholic drinks around within a historic district. But let’s be honest, we’re not Savannah, nor do we want to be.
Back on topic, cities that allow open container beverages within a district. We need a city in our region and about our size. OK, here’s one — Dalton.
The city approved an open container ordinance in its downtown area in 2015 and its convention and visitors bureau every chance they get. The passing of that ordinance hasn’t led to increased littering or crime, although some locals say many people in the city don’t even know the ordinance exists.
The ordinance that is going up to the City Commission for its second reading is intended to be a temporary one. It’s been introduced as an economic driver, although that’s up for debate as to how much it would help.
The argument is, if we can use the open air space that is the downtown area, then we should. We can help local vendors catch up on some of the sales they’ve lost over the past few months.
Whether or not it would help remains to be seen, but if you’re a small business everything helps.
We’ve had other ordinances put in place — for smoking, for panhandling, urban camping, etc — and we’re not seeing a lot of citations come from those measures. By the way, none of those ordinances have had the apocalyptic effect predicted by social media pundits.
Whatever the action taken by our commissioners, not much will change. We’ll either continue doing things as we always have done or we’ll try this new (to us) one out and move on.
For Rome, passage of the ordinance would likely be much like the opening of a new chain restaurant — a lot of people will initially go for the novelty and slowly realize it’s not that big of a deal.
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