An emergency clause was the main topic of discussion Tuesday night when the Searcy City Council approved an ordinance allowing a restaurant to file with the Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Control Division for a private club permit to serve alcohol.

Venezia’s Italian Grill, 2814 E. Race Ave., can become the seventh restaurant in the city with a private club permit now that the council, with Councilmen Mike Chalenburg and Dale Brewer voting no, passed the ordinance required by a state law passed in 2017. For the first time, the council also adopted the emergency clause for a private club permit ordinance, with the same council members voting against it. 

After City Attorney Buck Gibson said there was an emergency clause, Chalenburg asked Mayor Kyle Osborne if he had any idea why and Brewer asked if during Arkansas Legislative Audit’s audit of Searcy, it was found that the city had “far too many emergency clauses. ... Is that right?”

Gibson said he disagreed with the audit findings on emergency clauses. “They are not the legislative body in the city of Searcy,” he said. (A search of Searcy’s audits since 2013 did not show any findings concerning emergency clauses.)

Council member Chris Howell said the restaurant “is at a competitive disadvantage with other businesses around them having it, so the sooner they can get it, the more able they are to compete. So in my mind that is an emergency.”

Previous emergency clauses included with private club permit ordinances passed by the council had failed.

Osborne asked Gibson about Chalenburg’s question about the emergency clause. “It’s what the council votes to determine to be an emergency,” Gibson said, “and Arkansas law deems matters that have sufficient urgency to have the immediate option of an ordinance shall be deemed an emergency.”

Council member Rodger Cargile asked Gibson if he could “refresh on emergency vs. non-emergency.” Gibson said emergency clauses are used for “those things that are necessary to provide for the peace, health, safety and welfare of the citizens of Searcy as determined by the eight people who constitute the Searcy City Council. It would have an immediate effect vs. 30 days. I don’t know what the delay would be as far as how quickly it could get on the ABC board’s agenda. I don’t know.”

Cargile said he felt there was no “need to delay the inevitable, and I see no reason to hold the vote for 30 days.”

Attorney Jimmy Simpson, who was at the meeting representing Venezia Grill’s nonprofit corporation, Central Storage, said the restaurant’s application will be for beer and wine. (He reminded those present that state law requires there to be a nonprofit associated with the private club that would receive the license.)

“When you walk in the main door and you go right in to the right of the restaurant where you are seated, the bar will be to the left and there is also seating, and it was the private room and, of course, the bar is there,” Simpson said.

Council member David Morris asked Simpson if he was aware of any legal reasons, concerns or issues regarding the restaurant getting approval to serve alcohol. Simpson answered, “There are none.”

The council held a public hearing on the permit application before granting the request. A hearing on an application from Mi Ranchito on Race Avenue is set for Dec. 14.

According to Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration spokesman Scott Hardin, there are 10 establishments currently permitted by the ABC Division to sell alcohol in White County.

Before Act 1112 of 2017 went into effect, three Searcy restaurants applied for permits. The ABC board granted those requests from the Rock House, El Almacen and Colton’s Steakhouse.

The first request passed by the council was in October 2018, when it allowed Rib Crib to advance its application to the ABC Division. The council has since OK’d requests from Guacamole Grill, Chili’s and two restaurants that went out of business, Whole Hog Cafe and Truth Table. Before Tuesday, the last permit had been approved in 2019.

The other four private club permit holders in the county are the VFW posts in Searcy and Beebe, the Searcy Country Club and the Searcy Elks Lodge.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article has been corrected from an earlier version to reflect that the emergency clause passed.

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