The Covington City Council voted to extend last call hours to 1 a.m. at their Monday meeting but held off voting on the requirements that would prohibit convicted felons from working at bars/restaurants.
The council's decision came as part of a first reading of the city's new alcohol ordinance, which has been months in the making. The new ordinance must be approved a second time at the council's next meeting on June 16 before it can be put into effect.
The council also voted to extend the amount of time alcohol can be on tables at bars/restaurants to 1:30 a.m. The new alcohol hours only affect alcohol sales Monday through Saturday.
The ordinance had previously only allowed the serving of alcohol for on-premises consumption between the hours of 8 a.m. and 12:45 a.m., Monday through Saturday and 12:30 p.m. and midnight on Sundays.
The alcohol ordinance passed by a vote of 4-2 with Councilman John Howard and Councilwoman Janet Goodman opposing. In voting to oppose, Goodman said she was against extending the drinking hours only to 1 a.m.
Monday's vote came after nearly an hour and a half of debate at a prior work session meeting followed by further debate at the council meeting. The new ordinance was previously tabled from a month ago, so that the city attorney could further revise the ordinance following the recommendations of the mayor and council.
Several bar/restaurant managers and owners attended the work session and meeting and spoke before the council. 5 O'clock Somewhere Owner Debbie Harris requested that the council extend alcohol sales to match those of Porterdale and Conyers.
"It's going to mean the difference between a little profit," Harris said of the requested alcohol hours. "We're just trying to compete with what's next door."
The council decided to table the issue of the employment of convicted felons at restaurants/bars after failing to come to a consensus on a requirement barring persons from positions as managers or bartenders if they had been convicted of "any felony or violation of the laws of any jurisdiction relating to the manufacture, sale, or use of alcoholic beverages or controlled substances" and are still serving their parole.
Goodman and Councilman Mike Whatley expressed concern that the requirement would bar a very wide section of convicted felons from higher-level employment opportunities and could result in higher rates of recidivism in the community. The requirement does not apply to entry level workers such as busboys, waiters and cooks.
"I'm splitting hairs on this one," Whatley said.
Greg Rogers, a convicted felon who lost his job as a manager at The Depot Bar and Grill because of the requirement, was in attendance to ask the council if a note from a felon's parole officer could be used instead to determine the appropriateness of hiring a felon.
The new ordinance has already been amended to require only managers and bartenders to submit to a background check and to pay an annual $35 permit fee. The serving of alcohol on public sidewalks in front of restaurants with outdoor dining is also allowed under the new ordinance as is the presence of pool tables, dart boards and other games in establishments serving alcohol.
Further changes to the alcohol ordinance include:
The lowering of the minimum seating capacity for a restaurant/bar serving alcohol. Under the old ordinance it was 50. The council has recommended that it be changed to between 20 and 25.
The deletion of an entire section of the ordinance pertaining to the minimum distance between establishments serving alcohol and churches, schools, parks and libraries. The council concluded that the old requirements did not make sense in a time of mixed-use developments and nontraditional churches, which can often be found in shopping center plazas.
The license fees for establishments selling beer and wine for off-premises consumption were increased from $100 to $500 and the fee for establishments serving distilled sprits only for on-site consumption was increased from $2,500 to $3,000.
The total prohibition of cover charges was amended to allow the use of cover charges only when needed to offset entertainment expenses.
Pole dancing and male and female review were added to the list of prohibited activities.