Judge halts commission’s ‘last call’ ordinance on Athens bar sales

A doorman checks customers' temperatures as they wait in line to enter the Sandbar in downtown Athens. City officials hope to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the college town by stopping alcohol sales at 10 p.m.
(Joshua L. Jones/Athens Banner-Herald via AP)
A doorman checks customers' temperatures as they wait in line to enter the Sandbar in downtown Athens. City officials hope to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the college town by stopping alcohol sales at 10 p.m. (Joshua L. Jones/Athens Banner-Herald via AP)

Credit: Joshua L. Jones

Credit: Joshua L. Jones

An effort to curb the spread of COVID-19 at Athens bars by ending alcohol sales at 10 p.m. was placed on hold Friday when a judge granted a temporary restraining order that stops enforcement of the ordinance.

The Athens-Clarke County Commission voted 8-1 Thursday evening to approve a measure imposing an earlier cutoff for drink sales in the college town, the Athens Banner-Herald reported.

On Friday, however, Western Circuit Superior Court Judge Eric Norris granted a temporary restraining order allowing alcohol sales to continue into the early morning hours.

A hearing on the case is scheduled for Aug. 6 in Norris’ courtroom, Athens Attorney Mo Wiltshire told the newspaper. Wiltshire, who represents a group of downtown bar owners, filed the restraining order in a lawsuit against the mayor and commission following its vote on Thursday.

“We’re seeking to stop the county from usurping the governor’s orders,” he told the Banner-Herald. “We’re all being encouraged to play by the rules. The governor sets those rules and the mayor and commission have encouraged us to play by the rules, but they don’t want to do that themselves. They want to pass their own rules, which they don’t have the authority to do.”

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Because the new ordinance requires customers to wear face masks when entering an establishment, it is more restrictive than Gov. Brian Kemp’s order, which does not mandate the wearing of masks, the lawsuit contends.

Athens Mayor Kelly Girtz told the paper he was not surprised by the legal action.

“However, all states throughout the Southeast have either changed serving hours, or closed bars completely, so this is common terrain in this challenging time,” he said.

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