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A chance for a fresh start
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Greg Rogers has been on parole for the past 18 months.

While he originally struggled to reintegrate himself into society after serving three years on a 10-year sentence for methamphetamine related drug charges, Rogers had recently made strides toward rehabilitation after finding employment at The Depot Bar and Grill in Covington where he eventually worked his way up to bar manager.

Released from the Hancock State Prison in May 2006, Rogers, 39, says he searched continuously for employment for several months before he was eventually hired at The Depot as a kitchen aid. At the time he was hired in July 2006, Rogers says he was honest with the owners of the bar on his status as a convicted felon.

When it came time to reapply for the bar's liquor license this year, Depot owner Yong Song listed Rogers' name as the manager of the bar on the liquor license renewal application form.

Thinking nothing of it because he had already been employed with the bar for over a year, Rogers responded truthfully to a question on his convicted felon status when asked by the CPA handling the account.

So it came as a surprise to Rogers to learn from the CPA that his employment with an establishment serving alcohol was unlawful in the city of Covington according to a little known rule in the city's ordinance code.

According to Covington ordinance code, Section 5.12.670, it is unlawful for a business selling alcoholic beverages to knowingly employ any individual (including entertainers and musicians) who has been convicted in this or any state for the crimes of "soliciting for prostitution, pandering, letting premises for prostitution, keeping a disorderly place, illegally dealing in narcotics, sex offenses, or any charge relating to the manufacture or sale of alcoholic beverages."

 The ordinance states that once 10 years have passed since the date of conviction, the individual becomes eligible for employment at the establishments serving alcohol.

Because Rogers was charged with selling methamphetamine (a charge which he disputes and says he is currently appealing) and only four and a half years have passed since his conviction, under the city's ordinance, his employment at The Depot was unlawful.

"I'm not claiming my innocence," Rogers said of the events which led to his conviction. "It was a funny situation. All I did was make a phone call for someone who was buying from someone else. I was in a situation that I shouldn't have been in anyway. I just got mixed up with a bad crowd."

Upon learning of the ordinance, Rogers was let go from his employment with The Depot at the end of October.

"I don't what any trouble. So I had to let him go," said Yong, who along with her husband took over ownership of The Depot six months ago. "Personally, he's a very good person."

On the chance that the Covington City Council might be receptive to his situation, Rogers came before the council at their Monday night meeting with a request that they amend the ordinance.

Not only was the council receptive to Rogers' plight, but they moved to amend the ordinance that night - shortening the time period from 10 years to two years.

"A lot of times the reason why young people go back into the system is because we as a society discriminate," said Councilwoman Hawnethia Williams in her comments in support of the amendment measure.

The motion to shorten the time period before a convicted felon can work in an establishment selling alcohol was made by Councilwoman Janet Goodman and seconded by Councilwoman Ocie Franklin. The measure passed unanimously.

Monday night was the first reading of the ordinance. It will go into effect after the second reading of the ordinance at the next city council meeting on Dec. 3.

"I was actually kind of surprised that they moved on it as fast as they did," Rogers said. "I think they stepped up real good last night by amending that ordinance."

According to Covington City Manager Steve Horton, that particular ordinance has been on the books since 1983. Horton said he was not aware of any other business areas, other than pawn shops, where city ordinance precluded convicted felons of employment.

"To my knowledge the alcohol applications are the areas that I think are impacted on convicted felons," Horton said.

Whether or not there is any city law preventing convicted felons from seeking employment in certain industries hasn't stopped some businesses from refusing to hire former convicts.

"When they opened the new Home Depot in Covington, I went to the job fair and was offered a job and a month later before I could get started, because of my history, they were unable to employ me," Rogers said.

A contacted representative from Home Depot's Department of Human Resources declined to provide any information to The News on the company's policy of hiring convicted felons.

Rogers said he was turned by away by many area businesses after he revealed his status as a former convict.

"I job searched continuously," Rogers said.

After his release from prison, Rogers said he was directed to the Georgia Department of Labor for assistance in his search for employment.

"Without being really negative about it, there's not a lot of help," Rogers said of the Department of Labor. "They offer job training and stuff like that for individuals that have really no education. It's better if I had been someone with no education to come out because there's a lot of assistance for that."

Prior to his arrest and conviction, Rogers said he was employed in BB&T's corporate office in their Collections Department.

However Rogers said his two parole officers have been very helpful.

"They're the most understanding and helpful people I've found," Rogers said.

Once the ordinance goes into effect, Rogers said he will likely look for employment at a Covington bar/restaurant establishment.

According to a 2004 Penn State University study on the likelihood of former convicts returning to prison for the commission of crimes after their release, within three years of their release in 2002 approximately 66 percent of the 600,000 parolees released were predicted to return to prison.