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By Christa Jennings
Senior Staff Writer
The Rockford Town Council held a special called meeting Monday evening following an event being advertised late last week.
The town gave notice of its special called meeting on Saturday morning, stating that the meeting was being held “to discuss violations of an establishment’s business license.” The item on the agenda was also listed as “establishment’s business license violations.”
The establishment in question was Fuller Rolling Kitchen LLC., which does business as Crossroads in Rockford. All members of the council were present for Monday evening’s special called meeting, as well as town attorney Tom Young, Town Clerk Lesle Nelson, part-time assistant Town Clerk Susan Rogers, and Police Chief George Fanning.
After calling the meeting to order, reciting the “Pledge of Allegiance” and having Councilmember Robert Smith lead prayer, Mayor Scott White read off the agenda item and turned the floor over to Young to speak on the matter.
Young stated that he had been contacted by the Town of Rockford to draft a letter to send to Tom Fuller, owner of Fuller Rolling Kitchen, regarding the business license and the business’s advertised event. Late last week the restaurant had advertised that it would be hosting a drag and variety show the following Friday night for ages 21 and above.
Young proceeded to read the proposed letter to the council and attendees that he had prepared as requested.
The first paragraph of the letter reviewed Fuller’s request from the previous council meeting for a retail alcohol license for the restaurant, which is a separate matter.
However, the second paragraph of the letter addressed the matter at hand and the purpose for the special called meeting Monday.
That portion of the letter read, “This week, we were put on notice, as a result of an advertisement produced by your business, that you intended to have a drag show on August 18, 2023. As you are well aware, this type of activity is clearly in violation of any licenses that you have at this time, or any license that you would be attempting to obtain. You are hereby put on notice to cease and desist any activity that is inconsistent with the business license obtained from the Town of Rockford, and clearly the activity advertised is in violation. Subsequent to this notice, any further attempts to violate the terms of your business license may be viewed as willful and result in enhanced criminal penalties, as well as civil penalties. It is the hope of the mayor and Town Council that you will abide by the business license regulations, as all other merchants do in the Town of Rockford.”
After reading the letter, Young provided copies of it to the council. He described the letter as a “remedy for addressing this issue.”
“We put them on notice like we do any other business,” he said. “Put them on notice they’re in violation of it. They have to come in compliance with it or cease the activity until they are. This is the method I’m recommending we proceed with to address the topic.”
Following the reading of the letter, Smith made a motion to give Young the authority to send the letter to Fuller, and Councilmember Lynn Anne Castleberry seconded the motion. White then called for a vote of all those in favor and those who opposed, with Councilmember Cordarius Lee speaking up stating that he opposed.
Lee stated that he understood what was going on, but expressed concern for the council. He mentioned that Jennifer Johnson, who owns the building and previously owned and operated Twenty-Two and Crew restaurant in the same location, had held events such as having a DJ come in and provide musical entertainment.
“It’s kind of the same thing,” he said. “All I’m saying is liability to the city. So, if we didn’t do the same thing with her…”
Young responded, “I don’t know what prior owners/operators of this business did, and to me it really doesn’t make any difference because of this: That’s something you as a council have to decide on. I know that we have a business license. I know what the content of that business license is. If somebody was allowed to do it in violation of it, then shame on us. We should have caught it and addressed it last time. It doesn’t make further violations any more legal.”
Lee further stated, “I was trying to protect us, because he can go and say they did it on this date back then, why [are] they doing it to me? Would that make a lawsuit for us?”
Young replied, “Lawsuits are like armpits. You can file them; anybody can file them, but intended with that comes the responsibility to prove that they’re entitled to some kind of recovery. …I will default to the law that we have, ordinances and law that we have in this town every time. Now if somebody wants something changed and somebody’s arguing about equal protection or whatever, they can argue that, but we are simply asking our merchants to comply with the ordinances that we have in this town. That’s all we’re asking of them.”
“I can’t change what was missed, what wasn’t done, or whatever,” Young added. “Y’all asked me for a legal opinion about it. I’m saying you’ve got a basis for stopping an activity – whatever it is… an activity that is not authorized under that particular business license. You’ve got the right to do that. If somebody wants to make something else out of it, let them do that, run to the courthouse right out there. That’s my legal opinion for the council. It’s up for your consideration what to do.”
Following discussion, the motion passed by a majority vote of 5-1 with Lee opposing the motion and with Mayor White voting in favor.
White then stated that Young would deliver the letter to Fuller, and the meeting was adjourned, lasting only 10 minutes. Immediately after the meeting, Chief Fanning hand delivered the cease and desist letter to Fuller across the street.
In follow-up conversation with Young, when asked about the business license regulations and what was violated, he stated, “The violation was the fact that they didn’t have a business license for the activity. That was the violation. The violation was that as a restaurant, which is what they had, and of course they’re trying to obtain a restaurant retail alcohol sales; that’s what they’re presently applying for. Neither one of them are for the entertainment type… The violation is the fact that they did not have a business license that permitted it.”
Young added, “Is the word ‘violation’ necessarily correct? Probably not, because it is only a violation because to do business without a license is illegal. If you’re doing an activity that requires licensing like entertainment, cabaret type, there are licenses that go with that.”
He further explained that the restaurant would have to have a different type of business license in order to host such an event.
In a social media post Tuesday night, the Town of Rockford stated that “the business in question” holds a restaurant license and not “a bar license or entertainment venue license.” It further stated that those licenses have to include safety plans, as well as other documentation.
However, the town’s 23-page ordinance regarding business licenses; Ordinance BL-2023-01-01, of which eight pages list the various types of business licenses; does not include a business license listed for a bar or an entertainment venue.
When asking to clarify which business license would be needed to host such an event, Town Clerk Nelson said the business would need a 999.00 business license. Per the town’s ordinance, that license is for “business not elsewhere classified.”
Information was not provided at the meeting that explicitly stated what about the event made it illegal for the restaurant to host it. Follow-up conversations with town representatives to get clarification regarding what constitutes illegal activities at restaurants were unsuccessful as of press time.
As such, it is unknown whether Crossroads will also have to cancel the gospel singing event it has planned for next month, or if that constitutes a legal activity.
However, at the state level, the state ABC Board stated that what would have made the event illegal for a restaurant to hold would be the cover charge and the age restriction, meaning that if the event had been free and open for all ages it would have been legal at the state level.
Regarding Lee’s comments about previous events held at the former restaurant located in the same building, Jennifer Johnson said that her business license was for a restaurant with retail alcohol.
Johnson said that she had events such as karaoke, a DJ with music, live music, and private events. She said she was never notified that any of the activities violated her business license, but that she did not have a cover charge or age restrictions, other than for private events, which the state said were legal.
Regarding the cover charge for Crossroads’ event, Fuller later stated that the money collected at the door was going to be donated to the Lake Martin Animal Shelter.
The town’s regularly scheduled monthly meeting that would have been held Tuesday evening had to be rescheduled because of a scheduling conflict. That meeting was rescheduled to Monday, August 21, at 6 p.m. at Town Hall.