Monday, June 02, 2008

Bail Bond Business Bucks City Ordinance

Brandon will hold a public hearing next week to discuss a bail bonding company's attempt to move into a vacant downtown Brandon building.

New bail bonding businesses, along with tattoo parlors, check cashing businesses and others are forbidden by a city ordinance passed earlier this year.

City officials say the ordinance is designed to reinvent the area as an arts and antique district.

"I've always felt like we needed downtown to be a special area," alderwoman Yvonne Bianchi said. "In my opinion, there are enough bail bondsmen."

George Sandifer, owner of American National Bail Bonding Agency in Pearl, said he was denied a license, even though he applied for it the day before the ordinance took effect.

Sandifer spoke to the Brandon Board of Aldermen in April, but the business has been in limbo ever since.

"This thing was planned ahead of time, and it was planned to adhere to the historical society (exterior regulations)," he said. "I just feel like we should be allowed to proceed."

Sandifer said he doesn't feel that the spirit of the ordinance matches up with the reality of his business.

"We're not a fly-by-night outfit," he said. "Our offices are on the line of an attorney's office."

Sandifer said he thinks people may have an unfair stigma attached to their perception of the business.

(We're not) "like Dog the Bounty Hunter," Sandifer said of the A&E television personality. "I don't think that represents our line of work. We have a dress code. We're business people."

Sandifer said the business, which would be named American National Surety, would not feature a lighted sign or be open at night.

Bianchi said she's open to discussion about how the business may be different from others but said it will be a hard sell.

"They can call it whatever they wish, but it's still a bail bondsman," she said. "They're going to have to convince me that this is not going to take away from the concept that we have."

Alderman Tim Coulter, who has organized a downtown revitalization committee and is a supporter of the downtown ordinance, said he'd like to see a different business occupy the now-vacant building.

But Sandifer believes such an approach ignores one of the key features of Brandon's downtown: the Rankin County Jail and courthouse.

"Anywhere in the country, you're going to see these type of businesses near the court or the jail," he said.

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