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Rethinking liquor laws
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The city of Covington has responded to complaints from members of the community that its existing alcohol ordinance is too cumbersome and confusing by beginning the process of re-writing the entire ordinance.

Covington Mayor Kim Carter, Police Chief Stacey Cotton, City Manager Steve Horton and City Attorney Ed Crudup held a preliminary meeting to discuss the re-writing of the ordinance Thursday morning.

"Our ordinance is old and outdated," Carter said. "We've asked Mr. Crudup to get things in more modern times and make it easier to enforce and to understand."

The bulk of the city's 30-page alcohol ordinance was written in 1982 when city residents voted to allow the sale of alcoholic beverages by the drink for on-premises consumption. A second referendum in 2004 approved the Sunday sale of alcoholic beverages by the drink.

"The ordinance as it reads is archaic, overly complicated and just needs a whole re-vamping," Crudup said.

Crudup said the revision of the alcohol ordinance will be a long-term project for him and that he hopes to have something concrete to bring before the council within three or four months. During that time there will be work sessions and discussions on the matter.

Crudup said the goal in revising the ordinance is to have one "that is moderate, concise and current in terms of the law.

"I'm just encouraged that there is the will, apparently, to get the thing updated," Crudup said.

Among the criticisms leveled at the existing ordinance is that it does not allow establishments selling hard alcohol such as gin or vodka to have pool tables, dart boards or video games on the premises. Establishments selling only wine and beer, however, are permitted to offer such games to patrons.

Though that specific ordinance has been on the books for some time, it was only enforced this past summer by the police department resulting in a number of establishments losing their pool tables and dart boards when they opted not to give up their spirituous liquor licenses.

Crudup said the council would be revisiting the distinction the ordinance makes between establishments serving only beer and wine and those serving hard alcohol.

Liquor or pool?

At the December council meeting, Councilwoman Janet Goodman pointed out that people can become intoxicated from consuming beer just as easily as they can from the consumption of liquor and it doesn't make sense to take away the pool tables in establishments serving liquor but not in establishments serving beer. Goodman said she did not think this was fair.

"There's not a rational basis that we can see for making a distinction between the two," Crudup said.

One of the businesses forced to remove its dart boards was Mickey D's Bar and Grill, located next to the Food Depot on Turner Lake Road. Owner David Bass said he has lost a lot of business as a result of having to give up his dart boards. With the loss of these games, Bass said the dart league which formerly met at Mickey D's has since moved to Conyers.

"I don't know what throwing darts has to do with anything," Bass said. "There's no money that changes hands, there's no wagering or betting, there's no gambling. Now everyone goes to Conyers. It really hurts business because you're losing 20 to 30 people a night."

Bass pointed out that by requiring Covington establishments to give up their pool tables and dart boards, the city has lost out on tax revenue as residents are now leaving the city to shoot pool and play darts.

 "They want us to pay all these taxes to them and we can't get the business in there," Bass said.

Another criticism of the ordinance is that it prohibits convicted felons from working in establishments selling alcohol for a period of 10 years after the date of their conviction.

In November, the Covington City Council unanimously voted to change the prohibition period to only two years.

At the request of Police Chief Stacey Cotton, however, the council delayed a second reading of the amended ordinance in December which would have seen it become a law.

Cotton asked the council to delay the final reading of the ordinance so that he could research possible repercussions from the amended ordinance and to provide the council with a full perspective on the issue.

"My position in law enforcement is to enforce the current laws that are on the books," said Cotton, who is running for Newton County sheriff, on Thursday. "The only thing we have been doing is enforcing the ordinances that are currently there. If those ordinances change, we will enforce those. I really don't have a say one way or another."

Carter said one of the first things that will be reviewed in re-writing the ordinance is the prohibition period in the employment of convicted felons.

"We're going back and addressing that," Carter said. "That's going to come before the council very soon."

Another item, Crudup said will be addressed in the revision of the ordinance is whether to write an ordinance which applies specifically to the operation of bars.

As the ordinance stands now it expressly permits the sale of alcohol for on premise consumption only to restaurants, hotel lounges, private clubs and golf clubs.

"There has been a continuing dialogue with respect to that issue," Crudup said.

The ordinance requires the serving of food be the principal business conducted and the proceeds from food sales total at least 51 percent of a business' profits while alcohol sales cannot total more than 49 percent.

"I think it's the consensus that the operation of bars, as such generate law enforcement problems that are not typically experienced where you have a restaurant which incidentally serves mixed drinks," Crudup said. "There are four or five of them in this city that are the source of the great majority of police calls for public drunkenness."