PANAMA CITY — As the saying goes: out with Ordinance 3059, in with Ordinance 3060.
The City Commission has withdrawn its support for the controversial late-night alcohol sales ordinance and instead approved the first reading of a new ordinance that city officials believe will alleviate recent Spring Break headaches.
Ordinance 3060 aims to establish annual guidelines for making emergency declarations, prohibits the consumption of alcoholic beverages in commercial parking lots, provides a new nuisance definition and addresses spontaneous “pop-up events.” The final reading of the ordinance will be held during the commission’s next meeting on May 10.
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City Attorney Nevin Zimmerman said Ordinance 3060, modeled after a Panama City Beach ordinance, allows for a more tailored declaration of emergency, giving authority to the mayor or city manager to declare an emergency to shut down a business if the circumstances are appropriate.
“This is the result of meetings that the mayor and the city manager had with different club owners, meetings with the police department,” Zimmerman said. “Our city attorney’s office has worked with Panama City Beach’s office as far as understanding what they did.”
City officials proposed a change to Ordinance 3059 in late March, planning to prohibit the sale of alcohol within city limits between 2 a.m. and 7 a.m. from March 1 to April 30. The sudden changes were in response to Panama City Beach’s chaotic Spring Break weekend of March 25-27, which resulted in multiple fights, one shooting, more than 160 arrests and the seizure of 75 illegal guns. Panama City police, Bay County Sheriff’s Office deputies and Florida Highway Patrol troopers were called on to assist PCBPD
The city’s proposed changes sparked an outcry from residents and late-night bar owners, who said it would punish them for events they did not create nor participate in.
Panama City officials have been working with Panama City Beach officials, club owners and residents to get their perspectives on the issue. Panama City Mayor Greg Brudnicki said he believes they met with more than a majority of the late-night businesses and was proud of how those businesses handled spring breakers last month.
“I know that one fellow, from the pizza place, like he didn’t fit into that mold, and some of these smaller places and so, we were able to get everyone’s perspective,” Brudnicki said. “And I think by recrafting the new ordinance, we will handle and address the issue much better than the one that we talked about last time and it was just applying some common sense, being able to talk to owners.”
The newest ordinance also details a nuisance definition that creates a violation for having two or more violations of state statute and/or city code within a six-month period. Officials clarified that a nuisance is not when an individual makes a call to the police department for help, it’s when an individual is a part of the problem and is knowingly allowing criminal activity to occur.
Panama City Chief of Police Mark Smith said the new ordinance gives him more opportunity to keep citizens safe and not affect other businesses when declaring an emergency.
“What it’s providing for me is the opportunity to single out the business and not use the state statute, which if I declared an emergency under the state statute, it would affect sections of the town and it would create curfews, it would stop liquor sales and things like that,” Smith said.
The ordinance also carries a provision for addressing spontaneous “pop-up events” similar to Panama City Beach that would allow police to address events that are promoted through spontaneous social media.
Brudnicki said city officials have put some teeth into the ordinance.
“I felt really good because of the degree of security that these businesses have now put in place, just in case. And so, from that standpoint, it felt really comfortable with the new ordinance that we passed today,” Brudnicki said. “And it gives the (police) chief plenty of power to do what he needs immediately and the city manager, so that should keep the situation defused.”