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Cotton halts ordinance softening felon work restrictions
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 At the request of Covington Police Chief Stacey Cotton, the Covington City Council voted to table the second reading of an ordinance which would make it legal for convicted felons to work in establishments serving alcohol two years after their conviction date.

The council had unanimously approved an amendment to the city's ordinance at the request of Greg Rogers, a convicted felon and the former manager of the Depot Bar and Grill, at their Nov. 19 meeting. On Monday night, the council, apparently swayed by comments from Cotton voted five to one to table the resolution with Councilwoman Janet Goodman opposing the measure.

In his comments to the council Cotton requested additional time to research further amendments which would prohibit convicted felons from driving taxis and working at massage parlors for a period of years after their conviction date.

Cotton - who announced his candidacy for Newton County Sheriff last week - said he would work with the city's attorney, Ed Crudup, on coming up with a comprehensive amendment package which would specify the period of time after a conviction before a felon could seek employment at certain businesses.

 The city's ordinance currently does not allow convicted felons to work at establishments serving alcohol until 10 years have passed since their conviction. At their last meeting the council voted to change that period to two years.

Rogers, who lost his job once it was learned that the city's ordinances barred him from employment at The Depot, previously told the council that as an ex-con he had found it very difficult to find employment after he was paroled in May 2006. Rogers was paroled after serving three years of a 10-year sentence for methamphetamine related drug charges.

Rogers was present at Monday's meeting and asked the council to go forward with amending the ordinance as planned. Rogers said individuals who are inclined to commit crimes will do so regardless of where they work.

"I have a job offer, but I'll have to turn it down because this has been tabled," Rogers told the council, adding that he needed the job to support his family.

In a memo submitted to the council prior to the meeting Cotton wrote, "I know that this issue seems complex and that keeping someone from working a job and earning a living sounds like a draconian application of the law. It is not, it is only common sense that in certain areas of our society that people who have a committed a crime don't need to be employed or around activities that may make it easier to fall back into that lifestyle."

In the memo Cotton cited Conyers, Riverdale and Duluth as other Georgia cities which also have the same 10-year period barring felons from working at establishments serving alcohol. He also sited Fayetteville and Marietta as having a 5-year requirement.

"I would really hope that you would stand on the side of public safety with this," Cotton told the council.

Councilwoman Hawnethia Williams asked Cotton if he had any statistics on the rate of recidivism among felons in the area. Recidivism is the continued violation of the law after prior convictions. Cotton said he had no data but would research it.

"I think you're beating yourself up over something that's not really an issue," Cotton said. "You're talking about a very small segment of the population that you're affecting."

According to a report card issued by the Legal Action Center on state legal barriers facing individuals with criminal records, Georgia is ranked 47th in the nation for the barriers raised to felons seeking rehabilitation.

LAC is a non-profit policy organization with the stated purpose of "fighting discrimination against people with histories of addiction, HIV/AIDS, or criminal records."

Georgia received particularly low marks from the LAC for the many barriers it poses to felons seeking employment. According to the report card, "employers can ask about arrests that never led to conviction and refuse to hire anyone with a criminal record no matter their qualifications."

The report also faults Georgia for offering no opportunities for individuals with criminal records to obtain certificates of rehabilitation.

"Georgia has so many laws prohibiting felons from working," Rogers said Wednesday morning.

According to a 2006 report from Community Voices, an Atlanta organization which advocates for healthcare for the under-served, Georgia has the second highest incarceration rate, the fourth largest jail population and the fifth largest state prison population.

"Unemployment is a major factor of recidivism," Rogers said. "Unemployment is a direct result of laws such as Covington's."