Council meeting heats up

Published 8:01 pm Wednesday, February 28, 2007

By By Adam Prestridge
A debate over a business license became heated Monday afternoon during the Atmore city council meeting.
The intense discussion wasn't between council members, but instead the business owner and those that live near her establishment.
Shirley Simpkins approached the council requesting a business license to operate GT Center Party Place located at 891 East Sunset Dr. She said the facility, which has operated in the past under a county business license, would be rented out to individuals or groups for parties such as family and class reunions, excluding teen parties.
"I currently have a license through the county and I did not realize that I needed a license as well from the city," Simpkins said.
Simpkins used the facility for a daycare, which she operated for 10 years until hurricanes Ivan and Dennis caused extensive damage. After completion of the repairs, she decided to use it as an activities center instead of reopening a daycare since so many are currently operating in the city.
"We've received a lot of complaints for some activities that have gone on at this particular location," Atmore mayor Howard Shell said. "We also received a call from Sheriff Grover Smith that it has been a problem for the county in patrolling this area with calls they have had out there."
Simpkins referred to two incidents where the Escambia County Sheriff's Office was called out to her business. The first she said was an incident in which she called sheriff's deputies to break up teenagers that were parking down the street. The second was an incident in which she rented her facility to someone for a teen party and a fight broke out.
Atmore Police Department chief Jason Dean also expressed his opposition of the license.
"I'm opposing for Ms. Simpkins to receive a business license and the reason for that is just like Sheriff Smith," he said. "I have concerns because we've had to send officers out there to try to manage large crowds of people."
Dean said he has spoken to Simpkins on several occasions voicing those same concerns.
"The problem that we have is the large crowds, the fights out there and the alcohol," Dean said. "I know that your not providing (alcohol), but they are bringing it. Once the crowds get out there and alcohol gets involved, we've got to go out there and try to keep the peace, so I'm in opposition of it."
Dean went on to read a statement from an individual who claimed to have been assaulted at Simpkins facility taken by a sheriff's deputy at Atmore Community Hospital.
"It says that he was standing in front of the teen center when a group of guys came up and jumped on him," Dean read from the report.
Simpkins interjected stating the person in question was standing in front of her neighbors place. Atmore resident Chevon Riley, who lives near the business then interrupted Simpkins with her side of the story.
"Actually, it started at the teen center," Riley said.
Riley also stated a teen fell at her doorstep following an incident and asked her to call the police.
Simpkins and Riley then began arguing over whether the teen was allowed in the center or too old to attend the center. Shell then stepped in.
"Ladies, this is not the place to argue that," Shell said. "We're here to listen to the facts. The chief has related an incident, we've had a phone call from the sheriff and I've had numerous phone calls this weekend from people that live in the area because of the disturbances in the area that generated generally from the teen center. It is our responsibility to either approve or disapprove a license based on the information we've got at the time."
Simpkins said she understood the council's position and did not want to have problems at the center, referring back to her decision to exclude teen parties.
Atmore's Lillie Johnson also had concerns regarding the business.
"The only concern I have, I stay down the road from her, the fighting and other things that occur don't bother me because I live far enough down the road," Johnson said. "The only thing that would bother me is with the road being the way it is if an emergency vehicle needs to get by they couldn't make it because of the parking."
The council unanimously agreed to reject Simpkins request.
In other business, the council:

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