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By CARL SMITH
Oktibbeha supervisors voted unanimously Monday to begin developing ordinances to regulate maximum occupancy levels and require safety standards in county clubs and public entertainment venues after citizens and law enforcement addressed the board with concerns.
Following a presentation on safety concerns at Club Rock, an establishment located at Butler Road and Rock Hill road, by Sheriff Dolph Bryan and County Fire Services Coordinator Kirk Rosenhan, the board also voted unanimously to authorize the two representatives to formally present evidence for a possible injunction against the clubâs operation until an ordinance can be developed to ensure safety standards.
On Nov. 6, gunfire was reported from within Club Rock. A club security guard used pepper spray within the building to try and disperse the crowd, an OCSO report states, and patrons became stuck in the clubâs main entrance while trying to flee.
Bryan said it was a miracle no one was killed or trampled in the chaos.
âIf it happens (loss of life), itâll happen at Club Rock,â Bryan said to the board.
During Rosenhanâs presentation, he said any potential ordinance should be proactive and prevent problems from happening. Rules are needed, he said, to prevent a large loss of life like the one experienced in the 1940 Rhythm Club fire in Natchez. Over 200 people died in the fire, he said, due to the buildingâs overcrowding, blocked exits and lack of an escape plan.
During the Nov. 6 incident at Club Rock, one single exit was available, the OCSO report states, while another door was later forced open by patrons.
Rosenhan advised the board to consider the basics for a safety ordinance: the number of occupants of a building compared to its size, the number and accessibility of emergency exits, the usage of emergency lighting and liability insurance.
Board President Marvell Howard said supervisors will follow the same process they used to develop the countyâs vicious dog ordinance: develop a draft, hold public hearings, add input and hold the issue to a vote. While he could not confirm a timetable for developing the ordinance, Howard said the board will research the issue and begin preparing a draft in the next two weeks.
âThe very first thing weâve got to consider is citizen safety. With that frame of mind, I think we definitely need to proceed with developing this ordinance to get it going as quickly as possible,â Howard said. âI think the board sent a statement (in regard to Club Rock) that weâre concerned about the safety of our citizens.â
Before the countyâs presentation on safety concerns, Fenton Peters brought his and his neighborâs concerns to the board over noise pollution at the nearby BJ3 Recreation Center, located near the intersection of Sixteenth Section Road and Old West Point Road. Five of his neighbors were in attendance during the meeting, but he said more wanted to come but could not.
Peters said noise from BJ3âs patrons keep him and other residents up through the early morning hours whenever the establishment is open for gatherings.
âWe feel we have a right to not be disturbed,â he said. âWe can hear the boom of subwoofers. Weâre looking for relief. Iâd like to see some kind of ordinance governing sound.â
Peters said he heard multiple gunshots discharged in the area of BJ3 one night. A resident of the area also told supervisors he heard gunshots.
âPeople took refuge behind my house,â Peters said.
BJ3 owner Brad Spencer told supervisors his establishment is simply used as a place for the community can gather for events, weddings and other ceremonies. BJ3, he said, does not serve alcohol and forbids any parties from breaking the countyâs alcohol laws.
While BJ3 has a no weapons policy, Spencer did tell supervisors he found spent bullet casings outside one day and alerted the sheriffâs department.
âI am very aware and very community conscious,â Spencer said. âIâm ready to do what I can to help and work with our residents. If not for that noise issue, I feel like we could be a model facility. We have five exits, all handicap-accessible; weâre always lit up, have insurance and a privilege license. Weâre doing what we need to do. Weâre going to have no loud noise after midnight and we will tell our guests to keep it to an acceptable level. If itâs inconvenient for our neighbors, itâs inconvenient for us.â
District 2 Supervisor Orlando Trainer said he feels the situation at BJ3 is an easy fix, but the safety concerns at Club Rock warranted immediate board action. Both Club Rock and BJ3 are located in District 2.
âThe most important thing with BJ3 is (Spencer) wants to be a good, working member of our community, but we have urgency out there with Club Rock,â Trainer said. âThese situations are unique within themselves, and Iâm glad weâre able to make a move on it to create something beneficial for the county.â