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Covington approves first reading of alcohol ordinances to allow for hospitality drinks, brown bagging

COVINGTON, Ga. - In four split votes, the Covington City Council approved the first reading of changes to the city’s alcohol ordinances to allow for hospitality drinks at stores and salons, brown bagging at art shops and the fees associated with the required permits for each of those.

Councilwoman Hawnethia Williams voted in opposition of all three ordinance changes and the fees associated with them. Councilman Anthony Henderson cast the other opposing vote in two of the ordinances and the fees. He voted in-favor of the brown bagging ordinance.

“I’ll vote for this one, it’s going to pass anyway,” he said when voting in-favor of the third ordinance after the first two passed by a 3-2 margin.

Henderson said he was not against business, he just voted against the ordinance changes because he did not feel the public was thoroughly informed. He requested a referendum, but was overruled by a majority consensus in the work session, which took place prior to the meeting. He had also requested the issue be tabled until Councilman Kenneth Morgan could be in attendance for the meeting. 

Councilwoman Susie Keck said it would not make a difference whether Morgan was there or not. 

"We've got a quorum," Councilman Michael Whatley said. 

"I am not aware in my six years of business of us stopping business because one of us wasn't here," Mayor Ronnie Johnston said. "We've got to keep doing business."

Morgan was absent Monday night because he was with a family member in the hospital, City Manager Leigh Anne Knight said.

Councilman Josh McKelvey said it is the job of a councilperson to make tough decisions like this. A referendum would require a special election, which the city would have to pay for.

"I know you weren't around last year, but we had a lot of debates about this, we had a lot of petitions signed on either side, the support publicly is overwhelming," he said. "The business owners are begging for this."

Henderson said as a new council member, he felt that this was a big decision to make so soon after his election. 

"My opinion on the referendum, for what it's worth, is where I would disagree with you, respectfully, is this one issues became a pretty polarizing issue from the standpoint that there are lists of petitions signed, there's all sorts of stuff and I think that this is one of the most vetted discussions and decisions that we have ever made because this thing did go through a huge process," Johnston said. "I think we were very fair giving input to this community and I think some of those are the reason for some of the elections we've had, to be honest with you. I think people are, and these businesses, have been waiting very patiently for us to take this action so they can fairly compete and continue moving forward.

"It's time we take action, I think this is one that's been on and on and on and on."

The ordinances are required to go before the council one more time for a second reading. At that time they can either be approved, denied or edited based on council vote. The next Covington City Council meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Feb. 19.