Covington alters felon work rules
Final reading of reworked ordinance set for Dec. 3

COVINGTON - For the past year and a half, Greg Rogers has been working his way up the ranks at The Depot Bar and Grill, starting out as a part-time cook and eventually making manager.

But despite the fact that Rogers' boss was happy with his performance, he was forced to let Rogers go after learning of a city ordinance that prohibits convicted felons from working in establishments that serve alcohol.

Specifically, the ordinance prohibits those convicted for soliciting or letting premises for prostitution; keeping a disorderly place; illegally dealing in narcotics; sex offenses or any charge relating to the manufacture of sale of alcoholic beverages from working in an establishment that sells alcohol for 10 years after their conviction.

Rogers was convicted of selling methamphetamine in 2003.

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

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

"We could have went on 'business as usual,' but I didn't want to jeopardize anything," Rogers said.

The professional standards officer with the CPD referred him to City Manager Steve Horton, and Rogers penned letters to the council asking them 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 meeting in support.

"It's a very restrictive ordinance," Rogers told the council Monday night. "I won't say it's discriminatory because I'm sure it was done for a good reason."

Rogers asked the council to either reframe the ordinance so that decisions are made case-by-case, based on a permitting system, or to reduce the 10-year ineligibility time period.

The council agreed that the ordinance should be revisited.

"I have no problem giving a person a second chance," said Councilman Mike Whatley.

Councilwoman Hawnethia Williams said convicted criminals are often discriminated against.

"When they're not offered any hope or encouragement as far as future money, that's what people end up doing, is breaking the law," she said.

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. The final reading is set to take place at the council's next meeting, at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 3.

Rogers said he doesn't know if he will get his old job back, but he has been offered work at other local establishments - work he would have had to turn down if the ordinance was not changed.

"Had it not been for their willingness to listen and actually consider changing this ... then I would have had no other option," Rogers said. "That ordinance would have remained in existence and myself and anybody else that has a conviction would be ineligible to work in Covington. It's hard enough to find a job."

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