BRUSLY — The Town Council’s unanimous decision Monday night to deny a beer and liquor license for a local store with ties to the town’s former police chief ignited a firestorm of accusations from supporters who accused city leaders of unfairly hindering the store’s owners from developing a thriving business.
The council’s action comes two days after the state Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control denied the same application from Tricia Michel and former Police Chief Jamie Whaley, who resigned from office in April 2014 after he was indicted on charges of malfeasance in office and theft.
Agents suspected he lied on his application about his ownership stake in Back Brusly Grocery, ATC officials have said.
Louisiana law prohibits convicted felons from obtaining liquor licenses.
But there’s a provision that says only applicants with more than 5 percent of the membership interest in corporations or a limited liability company are required to meet the qualifications to obtain a liquor license.
“You really have no choice,” Town Attorney Tom Acosta told city leaders shortly before the council voted on the application. “We have the duty to withhold the permit if the state denies it.”
But that didn’t stop supporters who packed the council chambers Monday night to accuse Mayor Joey Normand of playing a role in the state’s investigation of Whaley and Michel’s application.
“I think everyone knows the mayor is going to shoot me down on anything he can,” Whaley said before Monday’s vote. “Anything with my name on it submitted to the mayor will be denied.”
However, a majority of the council members said they were prepared to approve the liquor license before the state’s decision was handed down Friday afternoon.
“I’m a friend of Jamie Whaley. I want him to succeed in this town,” Councilman Terry Richard said.
Whaley and Michel, his girlfriend, purchased Back Brusly Grocery from its previous owners in September. They bought the store, in the 1200 block of Main Street, two months after Whaley pleaded no contest to malfeasance in office.
He was sentenced to 42 months’ probation in a plea deal following his June 2014 arrest for not compensating the town for seven guns he gave to a licensed firearms dealer to sell.
A no-contest plea has the same effect as a guilty plea in criminal court but would not be an admission of guilt in civil court.
Whaley already was on supervised probation after pleading guilty to theft and malfeasance in office for using a town-issued credit card for personal use.
In the state’s denial letter, ATC Commissioner Troy Hebert listed five reasons for their rejection of the couple’s application, among them being that agents felt Michel, because she already has a full-time job, would not be handling the day-to-day operations of the business.
Whaley at Monday’s meeting told council members the couple filed new paperwork with the Secretary of State’s Office to remove his name from any ownership titles.
Another reason listed in the denial letter was that ATC had received word that the mayor opposed the store’s local permit.
Normand defended his decision to deny the application but pointed out at the meeting that the council has the final say on all liquor license applications.
“You don’t fight fair,” Michel said to the mayor. “This is a personal attack on my family, and Jamie is a part of my family; this is harassment.”
After accusing Normand of pointing out to ATC agents that the handwriting on all the permit applications were Whaley’s, Michel said, “People run businesses all the time without having to be there at all times. I will probably quit my job if I have to just to make this business work.”
Whaley’s father, Melvin Whaley, told Normand it’s time he dropped his ego and leave his son alone.
“We got serious sewer issues in Brusly, and we’ve got a mayor and Town Council worried about a damn liquor license,” Melvin Whaley said.
Christian Beard, another supporter of the couple, told city leaders Whaley deserves a second chance.
“For a man that goes to church,” he said to the mayor, “I’d think you would know that.”
After the meeting, Jamie Whaley said the couple will appeal the ATC’s denial, which they have 10 days to do.
Follow Terry Jones on Twitter, @tjonesreporter.
Editor’s note: This article was changed on Wednesday, Nov. 4, to correct tje name spelling of Christian Beard, a speaker at the meeting.