At a recent work session, the Covington City Council came to an agreement that the city's ordinance should be amended to treat all establishments serving alcohol equally regardless of the type of alcohol they served.
Currently establishments serving hard alcohol are prohibited from having pool tables, dart boards and video games on their premises. The enforcement of that prohibition this summer by the Covington Police Department resulted in many disgruntled restaurant/bar owners reporting a significant decrease in their revenues since the removal of the games.
Wednesday's discussion on amending the alcohol ordinance was one of the first discussions in what is anticipated to be a long process as the city plans to completely rewrite its alcohol ordinance - which now measures nearly 30 pages - with the intent of making the ordinance more modern, reasonable and concise.
Mayor Kim Carter said the city should have no distinction in considering the type of alcohol sold, adding "alcohol is alcohol."
The city council also debated rewriting the alcohol ordinance to allow the presence of establishments operating specifically as bars. Currently there is no ordinance allowing bars in the city. Businesses serving alcohol by the drink are required to draw at least 51 percent of their revenue from the sale of food. Despite the prohibition of bars, several establishments in the city come very close to operating what could reasonably be considered as bars.
Covington Police Chief Stacey Cotton said the hard alcohol ordinance was originally written to keep bars out of the city. Cotton noted his department received 200 calls for service last year from five establishments that he said operate as bars in the city as well as a large number of DUI arrests from patrons leaving those establishments.
"It is an impact," Cotton said.
Carter said it was inevitable that the police department would receive drunken disorderly conduct calls.
"That's been true of alcohol since the beginning of time and we're not going to legislate that," Carter said.
Councilwoman Ocie Franklin questioned why the police department had only recently enforced the pool table and hard alcohol ordinance, which has been on the books since the 1980s.
"As [complaints] have arisen, we have dealt with them," said Cotton, adding the police department is only made aware of infractions in the alcohol ordinance when they receive a complaint. "We've enforced every rule in that book when we've received a complaint."
City Manager Steve Horton said he was concerned that if the council rewrote the ordinance to allow for bars, the city would lose the ability to prohibit certain practices from taking place such as mud wrestling and bikini contests.
Carter suggested the council consider amending the minimum food requirement in the ordinance to allow for a greater percentage of revenues to come from the sale of alcohol instead of rewriting the ordinance to allow for bars.
Carter also suggested that the city amend the ordinance to require establishments serving alcohol to have a minimum number of items on their food menu, to have a minimum number of tables and chairs and a maximum number of square feet set aside for dance space.
Carter said she wanted to see the ordinance amended to allow restaurants serving alcohol to have outdoor dining.
"I would like to see us have outdoor dining on the sidewalk," Carter said.
The council is also close to coming to an agreement regarding the time period prohibiting convicted felons from working in establishments serving alcohol.
Horton said it probably made more sense to prohibit convicted felons from working in establishments serving alcohol until they had completed any probation requirements.
Carter suggested that background checks be required for all employees working at establishments serving alcohol.
Other than the consensus on hard alcohol and the employment of convicted felons, the council did not come to agreement on the other items discussed in amending the alcohol ordinance.
"I say leave it like it is," said Councilman John Howard.
Councilwoman Janet Goodman said, "I don't know what I want, but I don't want what we got."