Savannah city council ties vote for liquor license in heated hour-long discussion, applicant can re-apply

Published: Mar. 13, 2023 at 11:22 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - The City of Savannah tied a vote on Thursday, which neither approved or denied an applicant for a liquor license.

Thursday’s meeting was not the first time the business owner, Jacqueline Somesso, came before council for a liquor license for her establishment Sloppee Toppee.

Much of it was based on two factors - federal charges that include, Conspiracy to Possess with Intent to Distribute Controlled Substances (Cocaine, Methamphetamine, Cocaine Base, Heroine, Marijuana), Maintaining Drug-Involved Premises, Bank Fraud, Possession with Intent to Distribute a Controlled Substance (Cocaine) and Possession of a Firearm in Furtherance of a Drug Trafficking Crime).

The other issue brought up was another business Somesso owns serving liquor to minors and having several calls for shots fired and fights.

“She’s innocent until found guilty,” said Laray Benton, who spoke at the meeting.

That’s how some councilmembers felt too.

“We have to be careful when we make these decisions that we aren’t trying to protect or reject any one community and so it is our goal as leaders not to shame people,” said Alderwoman Kesha Gibson-Carter. “Can we for once do as we say and not act as we feel?”

The applicant, at the request of the city, was asked to meet with the Victorian Neighborhood Association.

“With the good neighborhood association agreement...I signed it. I compromised and I’m not sure what else I can offer other than the fact...I will address the allegations against me. My state case has been dismissed and I’m confident the federal case will be dismissed. Again, they are allegations and I have run my business professionally and the best of my ability,” said the applicant, Jacky Somesso.

But the association felt Somesso wasn’t standing on her word after another agreement was sent back after they already signed.

“The security plan sent yesterday has none of the points we agreed on,” said Nancy Maia with the Victorian Neighborhood Association. “We absolutely agree with the city manager. Anyone with open indictments should not be considered for an alcohol license until that is resolved.”

Mayor Van Johnson was a part of the tie vote to allow the license on specific conditions.

“You’re going to have to make sure that you live up to what you say you were going to do...because in my mind, if you don’t, that would be an issue for me,” said Mayor Van Johnson.

Alderwoman Estella Shabazz was absent from this meeting – we aren’t sure how that would’ve impacted the vote.

It was stated during the meeting that state charges against Somesso were dropped, the federal charges are still pending.

The conditions for the license that wasn’t approved or denied were the neighborhood agreement and if she’s convicted/pleads guilty it would be revoked.

Mayor Johnson said she has the chance now to re-apply for an application.

To put this in the context, the mayor said the city runs a background check and there is an extensive investigation into everyone who applies for an alcohol license.

This isn’t the first time a vote involving a liquor license has turned into a heated conversation. Council denied an applicant a second time last month.

But we’re now learning the owners of that business filed a petition and appeal in Chatham Co. Superior Court.

CRU Lounge cited the decision was “unconstitutional, unreasonable and an abuse of discretion”.

The city initially requested a judge dismiss the petition, but withdrew after realizing it was filed within the 30-day time frame.