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 club’s 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 club’s main entrance while trying to flee.
Bryan said it was a miracle no one was killed or trampled in the chaos.
“If it happens (loss of life), it’ll happen at Club Rock,” Bryan said to the board.
During Rosenhan’s 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 building’s 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 county’s 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.
“The very first thing we’ve 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,” Howard said. “I think the board sent a statement (in regard to Club Rock) that we’re concerned about the safety of our citizens.”
Before the county’s presentation on safety concerns, Fenton Peters brought his and his neighbor’s 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 BJ3’s patrons keep him and other residents up through the early morning hours whenever the establishment is open for gatherings.
“We feel we have a right to not be disturbed,” he said. “We can hear the boom of subwoofers. We’re looking for relief. I’d like to see some kind of ordinance governing sound.”
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.
“People took refuge behind my house,” 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 county’s alcohol laws.
While BJ3 has a no weapons policy, Spencer did tell supervisors he found spent bullet casings outside one day and alerted the sheriff’s department.
“I am very aware and very community conscious,” Spencer said. “I’m 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; we’re always lit up, have insurance and a privilege license. We’re doing what we need to do. We’re going to have no loud noise after midnight and we will tell our guests to keep it to an acceptable level. If it’s inconvenient for our neighbors, it’s inconvenient for us.”
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.
“The 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,” Trainer said. “These situations are unique within themselves, and I’m glad we’re able to make a move on it to create something beneficial for the county.”