COVINGTON, Ga. -
After listening to nearly two hours of public comments in a meeting that was standing room only, the Covington City Council voted down the first reading of the proposed alcohol ordinances in three 2-4 votes, with Councilmen Josh McKelvey and Michael Whatley as the only two in-favor votes and Councilmembers Chris Smith, Kenneth Morgan, Hawnethia Williams and Ocie Franklin voting against.
This vote comes after more than two months of discussion about the ordinances, a survey of Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce members within the city limits and a town hall meeting. The proposed ordinances were broken down into three sections - (1) customers can bring their own beer or wine into businesses, such as art shops; (2) businesses could provide amenity drinks to visitors of their business without the requirement of making a purchase; or (3) businesses, such as hair salons, could provide alcohol to paying customers a part of a service package.
Public speaks out in favor, against
With nearly 20 people standing up to voice their opinions on the proposed ordinances prior to the first vote, the council was able to hear both sides of the argument, with the majority of the crowd speaking in-favor or the ordinances’ approval.
Former Mayor Sam Ramsey, who also owns Ramsey Furniture Company, said he has been able to sell furniture without providing alcohol for many years. He urged the council to vote against the issue.
Anne Wildmon, owner of WildArt, said she has lost thousands of dollars after being told she could no longer host paint parties where customers could bring their own alcohol.
Wanda Briscoe said she was very concerned about the issues. She also presented the council with a petition with more than 400 signatures of people against the proposed ordinances.
Judy Hernandez, of Shelvie Jean Boutique, said allowing businesses to serve alcohol would not “burn the streets down in Covington.”
Becky Ramsey said the worst reason the council could approve the ordinances would be just because it is allowed somewhere else.
Aaron Brooks pointed out that businesses in Covington would be able to use events with alcohol served as a marketing tool to differentiate themselves.
Council proposes changes, finds flaws
McKelvey proposed changes to the ordinances, which included the number of times per month it would be allowed and amount of alcohol.
“I think all of us, as a council, need to have a serious hard look at ourselves and say, ‘Do we support small businesses, do we want a thriving Covington, and do we want young professionals to look at us and not laugh at us, and want to come here and be a part of Covington,’” McKelvey said.
Whatley said his only concern was the well-being of the City of Covington.
“I ain’t got but one dog in this fight, and that’s to vote to make the City of Covington a better place,” he said.
Whatley, who has served on the council for 20 years, told The Covington News Monday night’s turnout was either the largest or close to the largest turnout he’s ever seen for a council meeting.
Smith said he appreciated the public comment brought forth, but he would vote against the ordinance, which is consistent with how he has voted on the issue in the past. He said he thought the ordinances were “problematic and flawed.”
Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston said had the vote come down to a tie, he would have broken the tie with an in-favor vote.
“It is not my job to regulate your morals,” he said.
The Covington City Council will meet again Aug. 21 for a regular work session and meeting. Had the first reading of the ordinances passed, the second reading would have been on the agenda for that meeting. There is nothing stopping the council from re-examining the issue again in the future.