City Council OKs jaywalking ban

A ban on jaywalking in downtown Rock Hill won final approval Monday night, but not before a testy series of exchanges and accusations between city leaders.

The sharpest criticism came from Councilman Kevin Sutton, who accused city staffers of being deceptive in explaining the need for a stricter rule.

"We had a staff member stand before us and basically go through this charade of jaywalking, when we know that's not the reason this is being brought forth," he said.

Two weeks ago, city officials cited only safety as the impetus for a new downtown jaywalking rule, saying they're concerned about walkers darting out from behind parked cars -- where drivers can't see them.

But on Monday, Sutton said the real reason for the policy wasn't mentioned publicly. Instead, he said it was described in a memo sent to council members last month by City Manager Carey Smith.

That reason, Sutton said, is helping a downtown restaurant get a liquor license.

The state has refused to give Hall Dozier a liquor permit because his restaurant at the corner of Main and Caldwell streets is considered too close to Freedom Temple Ministries, a church two doors down. State law says that alcohol other than beer and wine cannot be served within 300 feet of a house of worship.

When state inspectors measured last month, they walked the shortest distance from one building to the other. If they measure under the new law, inspectors would take a crosswalk at one end of Caldwell Street into account, and the added distance could put the restaurant just beyond 300 feet from the church.

"My concern is the way the city went about doing this, and asking us to be a part of something that wasn't truthful," Sutton said.

Reno switches vote to 'no'

Sutton cast the only vote in opposition during the first vote. In Monday's second and final approval, he was joined by Jim Reno, who took responsibility for not pushing hard enough to get all the facts.

"I blame myself for not asking questions up here two weeks ago," he said afterward. "When you have questions, you need to voice them."

Mayor Doug Echols also took a degree of responsibility, saying that council members could have mentioned Dozier's predicament if they had so chosen.

"It's unfortunate it was not mentioned at first reading," he said. "But this was not some type of hidden issue."

During the meeting, Smith took the unusual step of giving a prepared speech in which he acknowledged that a full explanation wasn't shared. But he defended the basis for the rule.

"While the problem with Hall Dozier's restaurant did provide some impetus ... that situation was not a compelling enough reason to meet health, safety and welfare justification for this ordinance."

That wasn't good enough for Sutton, who asked why such concerns didn't extend to Oakland Avenue, where Winthrop University students routinely jaywalk across the four-lane road in between daily classes.

"If we were concerned about jaywalking in Rock Hill, Oakland Avenue would be biggest place right now," he said.

Herb Crump, pastor of Freedom Temple Ministries, doesn't object to Dozier's restaurant plans but says he dislikes how the issue has been handled.

Crump questioned whether the same level of attention is given to attracting businesses elsewhere in town, including areas where black-owned businesses are centered.

"Unfortunately, this pattern has been repeated numerous times -- not for everyone, but for certain individuals," he said. "We would like this effort and support demonstrated for every entrepreneur."