CORRECTION: This story was updated at 3:56 p.m. on July 21 to correct the spelling of Michael Hardin's name. It had incorrectly stated Harden.
The Chattanooga Beer and Wrecker Board on Thursday rejected a tentative settlement agreement between the city and the Blue Light nightclub stemming from the club's appeal of six Beer Board violations dating to the end of 2021.
The board handed out the citations during its regular monthly meetings on Nov. 4 and Nov. 18, weeks after the club opened in late August of 2021. The club immediately appealed, which sent the cases to Hamilton County Chancery Court. After two days of hearings last month, June 27-28, Judge Jeffrey Atherton set a third date for July 19 and urged the two parties to explore mediation, which they did on July 12 with attorney Sam Elliott serving as the mediator.
As required by law, City Attorney Phil Noblett presented the agreement to the Beer Board for approval Thursday morning, but the board voted 5-2 to reject it. Because the board rejected the proposed agreement, the case picks up where it left off with attorneys for the Blue Light presenting their proof in Chancery Court. No date has been set.
According to Noblett, details of the agreement called for considering only the two October violations for failure to report a disturbance and operating a disorderly place related to a disturbance that was alleged to have happened on Oct. 31, 2021. The other four violations from late 2021 as well as a new violation that reportedly involved the Blue Light on Jan. 22 of this year were not to be considered as part of the agreement.
Board members Cynthia Coleman and Vince Butler questioned why that was the case, and Noblett said it was part of the mediation agreement. In voting against the agreement, Butler said he took offense at Blue Light co-owner Brian Joyce's "arrogance and attitude" displayed on several occasions toward the Beer Board, the city, the Beer Board's city attorney at the time, Melinda Foster, and the Chattanooga Police Department.
Joyce is the host of "The Brian Joyce Show" on WGOW-FM 102.3 and has discussed the case many times on the show. After the Feb. 17 Beer Board meeting involving a different citation not related to the November cases against the Blue Light, he held a news conference accusing the city of being racist against his clientele and saying the board and his neighbors on Station Street have a personal vendetta against him because the club has been successful.
As part of the proposed agreement, the Blue Light would have been required to submit to the board a plan for increasing security at the venue using licensed security officers. It also called for cooperating with the city and the Police Department in creating that plan and essentially placed the club on probation until March 12, 2023. Any violations brought against the Blue Light through that date would void the settlement and the cases would be brought back up.
The Blue Light also had agreed to pay a $1,000 fine, which was part of one of the original citations handed out by the board in November.
Butler asked Noblett why March 12 was chosen, and the attorney said as part of the mediation agreement, the two parties wanted something more than six months and less than 12 months.
The board's role was to either accept or reject the settlement, but several members expressed their views on what they would have liked to see in a settlement.
After the vote, Butler said he would have liked the club's probation to last a full year. He said believes all employees of the club should be required to go through the city's beer sales training. Several members of the board said they would like to see some clarification between the city, the board and all of the clubs and restaurants on Station Street regarding their responsibilities for ensuring the safety of patrons in the area.
The Beer Board requires that businesses permitted to sell beer by the city be responsible for not only what happens inside their premises, but also in the parking lot and even in some cases the streets surrounding their place. Because there are several venues on Station Street, the lines of delineation and responsibility are less clear, they pointed out.
Two nearby business owners attended the meeting and spoke to the board about their concerns.
Comedy Catch owner Michael Alfano said that since November, when the board first heard the cases, problems related to the Blue Light have continued. He reminded the board that he had predicted to them that someone would get shot.
"And that has happened," he said.
A shooting on Station Street at 1:12 a.m. June 19 left two women with non-life-threatening injuries. It followed a June 5 shooting that left three people dead and 14 injured on McCallie Avenue. Chattanooga police later said a large fight on Station Street was part of the timeline that led up to the McCallie Avenue shooting.
Joyce and his attorneys have argued before the Beer Board and in Chancery Court that none of the disorders have occurred inside the Blue Light, and if there have been disorders, Blue Light security has responded properly by escorting the troublemakers outside.
Michael Hardin, manager of the Westbound nightclub across Station Street, also addressed the board and said the Blue Light already has licensed security personnel, but they "don't protect the integrity of the business." He said the Blue Light allows patrons to jump over the railing onto the patio to avoid going through security.
He said members of his staff alerted Joyce and his staff that the person who fired shots into a crowd on nearby Rossville Avenue in December had returned a month later and was inside.
"We told them, and they didn't care, and they let him in," Hardin said.
Board Chair Bill Glascock asked Hardin if his business had declined since the Blue Light opened. Hardin said it was down about 20% and said it was not because the Blue Light had taken its customers but because some of his customers no longer patronize Westbound because of safety concerns.
After voting against the settlement, the board decided that it could then hear the Jan. 22 cases involving an alleged fight and sexual assault inside the Blue Light, and the alleged failure to report the disorder, but later voted to pass the case until Aug. 4 after Blue Light attorney Scott Maucere argued that the officer who filed the report was not present for questioning, nor were the witnesses listed, and the city didn't have the officer's body camera video available.
Maucere also argued that neither his office nor Joyce had been told the case would be heard.