At the final reading of the city's new alcohol ordinance Monday night, the Covington City Council voted to extend last call for alcohol to 1:30 a.m.
In making the decision to extend the city's drinking hours, the council moved to bring Covington in line with the alcohol hours of its neighbors, Porterdale and Conyers, who allow drinking until 1:45 a.m. (on the weekends) and 2 a.m., respectively.
Under the new ordinance, customers have until 2 a.m. to consume their beverages before all alcohol must be cleared from the tables. The new hours do not include Sunday alcohol sales, which are regulated by the state. Final call on Sundays remain at midnight.
Two weeks earlier the council voted to extend final call until 12:45 a.m. with all alcohol off the table by 1:30 a.m., but several council members felt the new hours didn't go far enough and brought the issue up again at Monday night's work session.
Councilwoman Janet Goodman said the city should extend its drinking hours because it's what a number of new residents, who have moved to the area from Atlanta or other parts of the country, want. She added that people who object to the new hours will likely not be frequenting bars at late hours anyway.
"People are accustomed to other lifestyles," Goodman said. "If we are going to be in this century... I think we need to try to see what [new residents'] needs are."
Councilman Mike Whatley speculated that having earlier drinking hours than Porterdale and Conyers could result in more occurrences of drunk driving as patrons leave Covington bars/restaurants in search of alcohol elsewhere.
Mayor Kim Carter responded that longer drinking hours would likely mean a higher level of intoxication among bar patrons and could result in a higher frequency of police calls to break up fights.
A group of restaurant/bar owners were in attendance at the meeting to petition the council to extend the drinking hours.
Whatley's motion to extend the drinking hours was seconded by Goodman. The motion passed by vote of 4-1 with Councilman John Howard opposing. Councilwoman Hawnethia Williams was not in attendance.
The council also voted to amend the ordinance to allow felons, convicted of crimes of moral turpitude, to work as bartenders or managers if they had served at least five years of their probation.
Moral turpitude crimes, according to the ordinance, are sex crimes, crimes against children and crimes related to the manufacture, sale or use of alcoholic beverages or controlled substances.
Goodman's motion to allow felons to work as bartenders after serving five years of probation was seconded by Whatley. The motion passed 4-1 with Councilwoman Ocie Franklin opposing.
Restaurants/bars will have until Aug.1 to come into compliance with the new ordinance. All bartenders and restaurant/bar managers are to report to the Covington Police Department to pay $35 for a background check and employee permit. They must renew their permit annually.
The new ordinance, which was more than six months in the making, went into effect Tuesday.