The Metro Council's failure to pass a resolution Wednesday didn't stop bars from reopening in East Baton Rouge Parish, but the failed attempt has reignited some old grudges among its members.
Nearly half of the council didn't show up to a specially called online meeting Wednesday where the measure to reopen bars — which have been shuttered for months due to the coronavirus pandemic — failed to get the seven votes it needed to pass.
Medical emergencies and scheduling conflicts, not opposition to bars reopening, appear to be the reason a majority of the council's Democrats didn't attend Wednesday's special meeting.
One of the Republican councilmen who sponsored the resolution but decided not to show up said he didn't want to be in the middle of what he considered a feeble attempt to win over voters by the council members campaigning in various city-parish races this fall.
"Why are we having a special meeting? So somebody can get a TV ad to say 'I got all the bars open when someone else couldn't do it,'" Councilman Chandler Loupe said on Thursday. "Bars are open. That's what everyone wanted. So everyone is good."
East Baton Rouge was among the four parishes in the Baton Rouge Metro area that learned Wednesday they had the option to reopen bars and resume on-premises alcohol sales after meeting the state's health benchmarks related to mitigation of the coronavirus.
But confusion arose at Wednesday's virtual meeting over who had the authority — the mayor or the Metro Council — to make the opt-in request to the state's Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control.
After the council's measure fell one vote short of passing, the Parish Attorney's Office argued the Metro Council should have made the request to the state because the governor's executive order outlining Phase 3 restrictions says the "governing authority of the parish must affirmatively opt-in to allow on-premises consumption."
East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor President Sharon Weston Broome and state officials said Wednesday that bars in the parish could re-open after a …
But, despite the council's failed vote, the state opted to honor a request Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome made earlier this week to ease the restrictions on bars if the parish met the health benchmarks.
However, the Metro Council is still set to revisit the issue at another specially called meeting at 4:30 p.m. Friday.
"The Parish Attorney has advised us that the legislative branch needs to pass this request," Councilman Matt Watson said on Thursday.
Watson sponsored the reopening resolution along with Councilmen Dwight Hudson, Jennifer Racca, Denise Amoroso and Loupe.
Despite the state already giving the OK to reopen bars in the parish, Watson said Friday's meeting will still convene.
"It's better to be safe than sorry," he said. "If we end up not having enough council members show up to do their jobs and represent their constituents, so be it. I don't mind showing up to do the work."
Only seven members showed up to Wednesday's meeting: Watson, Hudson, Racca, Amoroso, Wilson, Trae Welch and Erika Green.
Green choose to abstain while everyone else cast "Yes" votes. She said she was against reopening bars out of concern for the community's health.
Loupe said Thursday he agreed to sponsor the measure before Broome publicly announced she had requested the parish be allowed to resume on-premise alcohol sales. Once that happened, he said he saw no need for the council to step in.
Loupe also took a dig at Watson, who's currently running for mayor against Broome, pegging Watson's involvement as nothing more than a political move against the mayor.
If you ask Matt Watson, East Baton Rouge Parish has a lot of catching up to do: potholes need to be filled, culverts need to be cleaned, and a…
"I didn't want to get involved in a dispute between the mayor and one councilman running for office," Loupe said.
Watson on Thursday said Loupe's claim "doesn't deserve a response."
Loupe said he "doesn't know yet" if he'll attend Friday's special meeting.
A majority of the council's Democrats — Councilman LaMont Cole, Tara Wicker, Chauna Banks and Donna Collins-Lewis — also didn't show up at Wednesday's meeting.
Most said they had family emergencies and/or prior commitments.
Collins-Lewis shot down behind-the-scenes chatter that she and fellow Dems didn't bother showing up as opposition to reopening bars or as some kind of political coup tilted toward making Broome look good so close to the election.
She said she had a prior engagement that conflicted with Wednesday's special meeting.
"I show up for meetings, so don't come telling me it was a political ploy," she said Thursday. "They (the Republican council members) don't care about us any other time because they don't need our votes most of the time. So why do you care now?"
She continued: "If Chandler had been there and they had the votes, they wouldn't have cared if we were there," she added.
Collins-Lewis said she never received any notice of the meeting, and only learned about it through word of mouth late Tuesday night. She said she doesn't intend to attend Friday's meeting either due to a scheduling conflict.
Banks said she too had another engagement to attend at the time of the meeting that couldn't be rescheduled. She also may not attend Friday's meeting.
"This is bad timing and to me, it's already a done deal anyway," she said. "We didn't have to meet to close them and we don't need to meet to open them either. I don't know why the council is even doing this."
Wicker said her mother was hospitalized Wednesday afternoon, so she couldn't attend. She said she would be at Friday's meeting, but she wouldn't say how she intended to vote.
"I'm going to listen to the discussion and base my vote on what I hear," she said.
Cole said at the time of the meeting he was dealing with the fallout of having discovered Kwame Asante, his friend of more than 20 years, dead in his home Wednesday afternoon.
Asante was the former president of the parish's local chapter of the NAACP.
Cole said he plans on attending Friday's special meeting but also declined to say how he would vote.