HOMER — Banks County Commission Chairman Jimmy Hooper didn't hold back when he scolded the managing partner of and the attorney for Longhorn at Banks Crossing for a recent underage alcohol sale.
During a show cause hearing for the restaurant Tuesday night, Hooper told Managing Partner Gregory Ray and attorney Mike Sard that county leaders take seriously the restaurant's second violation in two years.
Longhorn employee Rebecca Nelson was fired after the an incident in which she was found to have sold alcohol to an underage person on Feb. 24.
"I think you're a very responsible businessman," Hooper told Ray. "I think there's no doubt among the commissioners right here that we want all restaurants to be successful down there. We've even put our political necks on the line when we got Sunday alcohol sales down there."
Hooper proposed that Longhorn not be allowed to sell alcohol Wednesday and Thursday of this week; a 90-day intense probation where every person purchasing alcohol is checked for identification; and every six months for two years the restaurant submit to the county records of in-service training on alcohol sales, signed by the server and affirmed by the signature of the managing partner.
Sard reminded commissioners the employee in question was fired as soon as the violation occurred. Ray explained the steps taken to ensure that employees know the law and company policy regarding alcohol sales.
"Ms. Nelson is the one who committed this violation," Sard said. "By suspending the license for a couple of days, having no alcohol sales for a couple of days, the impact is not going to be on Ms. Nelson who has been terminated. The impact is going to be on the bartenders and servers who will have to miss a shift because we'll have fewer sales, and the bartender who obviously won't be working that day."
Hooper explained to Sard and Ray that he initially planned to propose a one-week suspension of alcohol sales since last month's incident was the restaurant's second offense, but decided that was too extreme.
"I know that Mr. Ray is a very responsible man," Hooper said. "He didn't want this to happen. He probably lost sleep over this taking place. He cares about his business. He cares about the people in Banks County."
Hooper said despite Longhorn's great reputation, "we as commissioners are obligated to make sure that all our businesses down there that serve alcohol live up to every standard."
Hooper stressed the severity of his proposed punishment was due to the fact this is a repeat offense.
"If this had been the first offense, I would say probably a 90-day probation," Hooper said. "But this is the second offense. Longhorn needs to be punished."
Commission Vice Chairman Danny Maxwell weighed in on the matter, saying, "My concern, Greg, is when you were there, she made the right decisions. When you weren't there, she made a wrong decision, essentially is what happened. And you can't be there all the time."
Maxwell said someone in management, who was in charge on the day in question, failed to ensure a violation didn't occur.
Ray said he is willing to have employees card anyone and everyone who wants to purchase alcohol.
"I would be willing to do away with the two-day suspension if we go from 90 days to 120 days — you card everybody," Hooper said.
"I can live with that," Ray told him, adding he has ordered eight-inch by eight-inch cling signs to go on the restaurant's doors stating the restaurant will not sell alcohol without identification, period.
Hooper told Ray he can tell any restaurant customers who complain the Banks County Commission is requiring the restaurant to card everyone to ensure compliance with the law and local ordinances.
Despite dropping the proposed two-day suspension, Hooper left the requirement that Ray submit an affidavit to the commissioners office that every employee who serves alcohol has received in-service training every six months on preventing alcohol sales to underage persons.
Referring to his days in educational leadership, Hooper told Ray, "Being a school principal for 30 years, you're getting off pretty light."
Hooper made the motion to require the restaurant to check identification of every person of any age who wants to purchase alcohol over the next 120 days, and to submit the required continuing education affidavit every six months for two years. The motion was seconded by Commissioner Charles Turk, with all voting in favor.
"Don't let this happen again, guys. Please," Hooper told Ray and Sard.