Tobacco Road restaurant keeps license for now

Augusta commissioners rejected the recommendation of their public services committee to revoke the business license for a Tobacco Road restaurant that was operating as an illegal dance hall.

Instead, they voted 6-3 Thursday to send the matter back to the public services committee for clarity because of legal concerns after the owner's attorney Jack Batson asked that his client be fined for not having a dance-hall license.

Commissioners Matt Aitken, Jerry Brigham and Jimmy Smith voted against the motion.

The committee voted unanimously 11 days ago to revoke the business license for Mamie Lee's Southern Cooking in the name of Teresa Cummings. The location was previously Super C's dance hall, frequented by teens until 18-year-old Stedmund Fryer was shot dead on the dance floor in 2007 and commissioners revoked the alcohol and business licenses.

At the time, Sheriff Ronnie Strength said it was a hangout for gang members and drug dealers.

Super C's owner, Charles Cummings, later persuaded commissioners to issue him a business license to operate a restaurant only. He would have to wait 10 years to apply for another alcohol license. In 2009, his wife, Teresa Cummings, applied for a beer and wine license, saying that she was now the owner and that her husband would have no part in operating the restaurant.

At the time, commissioners were divided over whether to issue the license. Teresa Cummings said Charles Cummings would not be involved, and she got the license.

Then, on Oct. 4, after receiving complaints about large crowds at the restaurant and in the parking lot, sheriff's Investigator Tony Hyatt went there around 1 a.m. and witnessed a dance hall with admission being charged.

The Cummingses have called for sheriff's deputies to help disperse large crowds in the parking lot three times, Hyatt told commissioners.

Mayor Pro Tem Alvin Mason said they had discussed the matter "ad nauseam" last week and that Teresa Cummings has pleaded ignorance about knowing she had to have a dance-hall license.

"If you don't know what kind of license you have to operate a business, then perhaps, just perhaps, you shouldn't be operating that business," Mason said. "There were a number of questions she could not answer on her own, so I'm wondering who is running the business if it's not Mrs. Cummings."

Batson said it was a family operation and that the Cummingses had told commissioners it would be a family operation.

"Wrong," Mason said. "The record does not reflect that. In fact, what it does reflect is Mrs. Cummings stated it was not a family operation. She is the owner, and she would be running it. And not only that, out of her own mouth, she said Mr. Cummings would not be a part of it. That's what she said. Not what we said."

"Well, he works there. No question about it," Batson said. "There have not been any calls or complaints about violence at that place. The three calls that have come from that place have been from Mr. Cummings to the sheriff's department because people from across the street have been coming into his parking lot, and he was trying to get them out."

Hyatt said Cummings had called for deputies twice in August and that there were fights and violence.

Mason said the safety of the community was above anything else and that their arrogance of running a dance hall when they knew what had happened there made him sick.

Commissioner Jerry Brigham made a motion to uphold the committee's decision to revoke the business license, but Commissioner Corey Johnson's substitute motion to refer the matter back to committee passed.

In other action

Commissioners also:

- Denied a protest from developers who bid to run the Municipal Golf Course. The developers from Scotland and Savannah did not submit a business license with their proposal and were disqualified. Thursday, Brigham moved that the bid be opened to see what was in it, but City Administrator Fred Russell recommended against that. Commissioner Bill Lockett said they had voted previously to give Augusta State University President Bill Bloodworth and other interested parties 60 days to develop a plan that would allow the school to expand and satisfy people who play golf at the course, and that they should follow through.

- Elected Joe Jackson to serve on the Regional Transportation Roundtable along with Mayor Deke Copenhaver.

- Approved a request from Augusta Entertainment Complex to temporarily rename a portion of the street around the complex for ceremonial purposes only Nov. 15 as Lady Antebellum Way.

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