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Packed Bibb commission meeting leads to new ordinance that requires bars to close earlier

Macon-Bibb County says the ordinance, and another limiting food truck hours, will help limit late-night crime.

MACON, Ga. — Closing time for bars in Macon-Bibb County will now come a little earlier.

County commissioners decided Tuesday to close bars an hour earlier from now on, following a packed commission meeting. They announced three ordinances to limit late-night crime. Two of the three came up for a vote, and both passed by a narrow margin: One vote.

Now, Macon bar owners are already shifting plans and trying to figure out what comes next.

"Your employees can be inside, but your door must be locked. I don't have a back door. I don't know how that's going to work for me, logistically," Matrix Drafts, the owner at Recess said.

"We've got to stop serving at 1:30. We've got to stop letting people in at 1:15. It's going to change a good bit," Brandon Lawler with JBA said.

Both votes were 5-4. One of the contested votes requires bars to shut down, doors locked, at 2 a.m. instead of the usual 3 a.m.

"I can't sit by and just point my finger at the sheriff when there's some things that I can do to save people's lives," Mayor Lester Miller told commissioners.

He says the ordinance, and another limiting food truck hours on county property, are designed to keep Maconites safe. The goal is to get people home before there's a chance for late-night crime or violence. 

Each debate lasted nearly an hour.

"Law enforcement. We have to stop trying to do their job," Commissioner Al Tillman said.

"I don't see what we're changing that much. It's still, they can still stay open and sell alcohol until 2 a.m.," argued Commissioner Raymond Wilder.

Lawler says that may be true, but he'll still need to start closing earlier. While he understands the good the ordinance might do, he fears it might hurt his bottom line. 

He did the math.

"That's about $15,000 to $20,000 a year. It's a chunk of change. So financially, absolutely, it will hurt us," Lawler said.

A third ordinance limiting large public gatherings did not come up for a vote Tuesday. Instead, commissioners decided to make it a public hearing for a later date.

That ordinance could limit crowds of 10 or more gathering on public rights of way after midnight and before 6 a.m. If approved it would cost each person in a crowd a fine of $50.

The ordinance would not punish people walking by a gathering, or people peacefully protesting or demonstrating as long as they inform the county ahead of time.

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