Covington to wait on felon law

COVINGTON - The City Council delayed action Monday night on an ordinance that would reduce the wait time for convicted felons to work in establishments that serve alcohol by the drink.

The move came after Police Chief Stacey Cotton asked the council to reconsider its position.

The city's ordinance does not allow convicted felons to work in establishments that sell alcohol for 10 years after their conviction.

The council agreed to reduce that time period to two years at its Nov. 20 meeting at the request of Greg Rogers, a former manager at The Depot Bar and Grill who had to leave his job due to the requirement. Rogers was convicted of selling methamphetamine in 2003.

The council approved the first reading of the new ordinance Nov. 20 and was set to approve the final reading Monday night.

But Cotton said the current wait period is reasonable, adding that many felons have not completed probation within two years.

"Due to the fact that alcohol is served and that other illegal activities, including drug use, is common knowledge at these establishments, the employment of convicted felons is not a good practice," Cotton said, adding that such individuals may be tempted to turn back to crime in such an environment.

The police department is already having difficulty regulating such establishments, he said, many of which purport to be restaurants but are actually bars.

Conyers requires those convicted of felonies and misdemeanors to wait 10 years before working in establishments that serve alcohol. Riverdale and Duluth also require a 10-year period for felons, while Fayetteville and Marietta require five years, Cotton said.

"It's a common practice. It's not something the city of Covington arbitrarily applied," he said.

"If you've been convicted of a felony, you've made a mistake and now you want a second chance at life, no problem," Cotton said. "If you haven't committed a felony in 10 years, you're probably not going to do it."

But Rogers argued that, "If a person is inclined to do a crime, they're going to do it no matter where they're at.

"Yes, people go back to prison, for so many reasons. Some don't have the good sense to stay out of trouble. Some do it out of necessity. But I have no desire to go back where I've been. Two years, five years, 10 years, it doesn't matter. I waited 34 years before I got in trouble. It's not about time. It's where your mind's at."

Rogers and his boss, Steve Gubitosi, first learned about the ordinance when the restaurant's liquor license came up for renewal in late October.

Rogers voluntarily took the matter to the Covington Police Department and learned that he was, in fact, ineligible to work at the restaurant.

The professional standards officer with the CPD referred him to City Manager Steve Horton, and Rogers penned letters to the council asking it to change the ordinance, which was enacted in 1983.

The ordinance also applies to entertainers, such as musicians, who perform at the establishment, and leaves enforcement up to business owners. Rogers' former boss, who said he

doesn't think the ordinance is realistic, attended the Nov. 20 meeting in support.

At that meeting, the council unanimously agreed to reduce the ineligibility period from 10 years to two years and immediately approved the first reading of the new ordinance.

Cotton asked for time to look at more comprehensive changes to city ordinances regarding employment of felons that would include regulation of massage parlor workers, taxi cab drivers and security system installers.

The city already prohibits felons from working in pawn shops, he said.

The motion passed 5 to 1, with Councilwoman Janet Goodman opposing.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.