By Tia Lynn Ivey
In a 3-to-2 vote, the Madison City Council narrowly passed a seven-day liquor sales suspension and a $500 fine against the Sunflower Convenience Store located at 1241 Eatonton Road in Madison.
Madison Officer Philip Malcom appeared before the Mayor and City Council on Monday, Nov. 11 claiming the Sunflower Store owners and staff were negligent in keeping away loiterers and selling to intoxicated clients.
“This is a business where most of the clientele approaches on foot and resides at the Budget Inn,” began Malcom. “It has a history of a lot of people loitering and consuming alcoholic beverages on premises.”
Malcom presented pictures of patrons drinking alcohol outside of the store along with recorded incidents stemming back to July. Malcom argued that the frequency of intoxicated loiterers outside of the business would eventually lead to a serious crime or tragedy.
“The patterns I see out there are going to lead to something this city is going to regret,” said Malcom. “We are going to have something happen out there, a murder or other serious crime, that we don’t want to happen.”
Malcom laid the blame on owner Marissa Nimmala and her staff.
“I don’t think this business has fulfilled their obligation and their part in maintaining this liquor license,” said Malcom. “I am charged with maintaing the ordinances of this city, but this business has an obligation itself that they are not fulfilling, so I recommend a suspension for seven days.”
Nimmala plead her case before counsel, noting that no written warnings had ever been issued to her and that she was only made aware of this problem in late October.
“No one came to me and told me this,” said Nimmala. Malcom noted that he or other officers never issued written warning and only verbally warned clerks, not the owner herself.
Nimmala and her staff said it was difficult to run the store inside and keep tabs on people if they congregate on the sides and in the back of the building out of sight from clerks.
Nimmala was willing to install security cameras and put a fence in the back to solve the problem. City Councilman Eric Joyce suggested hiring a security guard and City Manager David Nunn suggested banning repeat offenders who try to purchase alcohol while already intoxicated or who continue to loiter on the property.
Madison Mayor Fred Perriman urged the council to give Nimmala the chance to make these changes before enacting a suspension and fine.
“I don’t get a vote in this, but in all fairness, I would like to see this store treated like we have treated other stores and give them an opportunity to make the changes, and then come back to us,” said Perriman. “Instead of fining them $500, that money could be put toward installing cameras, something to help fix the problem”
Councilwoman Carrie Peter Reid and Councilman Eric Joyce agreed. But Councilman Joe DiLetto, Councilman Rick Blanton and Councilwoman Chris Hodges outvoted Joyce and Reid, narrowly passing a resolution to enact a seven-day suspension of liquor sales and a $500 fine against the store.
“Ignorance of this is not an excuse,” said Hodges. “[Malcom] met with [Nimmala] on Oct. 28, maybe that’s not enough time but with such a flagrant display of drinking out front, there needs to be a line in the sand drawn.”
“There needs to be some impact for the everybody involved here, so they know the seriousness of the situation and it’s a very serious situation,” said DiLetto.
Joyce argued that the lack of direct communication with the owner should result in giving her a grace period to address the situation.
“The lack of written notice to this owner concerns me,” said Joyce. “We didn’t do a great job of giving written notice that’s part of her due process…We should give her a couple of weeks as an opportunity to improve.”
While the council narrowly passed the suspension and fine against the Sunflower Store, the council noted Nimmala has a right to appeal and noted that improvements in the meantime could help her case.
“A good faith effort before you come back before us could go a long way,” said Nunn.