The Metro Council failed to pass a resolution Wednesday seeking to reopen bars in East Baton Rouge Parish.
The Parish Attorney's Office says that means bars can't reopen, but the state's Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control says Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome's previous request to reopen will be granted regardless of the vote.
The parish on Wednesday met criteria for the state's testing data regarding coronavirus to opt into reopening.
Broome issued her "opt-in" letter in advance after city-parish officials assessed the direction testing data was headed, though she warned residents not to let up on the social distancing and masking practices that have gotten the parish this far.
The Metro Council called its special meeting to gather at 4 p.m. Wednesday to consider whether to endorse Broome's decision two days ago.
In other parishes that have met those benchmarks, local councils have not voted on whether to opt in to Phase 3. But Parish Attorney Andy Dotson on Wednesday said, per the governor’s executive order, the governing authority of a parish must issue the opt-in request.
“The governing authority in East Baton Rouge Parish is the Metro Council,” Dotson told the Metro Council members who attended Wednesday’s meeting, which was conducted virtually.
The resolution seeking permission to re-open bars required seven votes, and only seven council members were present: Scott Wilson, Denise Amoroso, Dwight Hudson, Matt Watson, Trae Welch, Jennifer Racca and Erika Green.
Councilmen LaMont Cole, Donna Collins-Lewis, Chauna Banks, Tara Wicker and Chandler Loupe were absent.
Six of the council members who were present voted "yes," but Green chose to abstain and then immediately logged out of the meeting after the motion failed.
Because of that, the council had to adjourn for lack of a quorum.
“I have some concerns for the community’s health,” Green said later about her decision not to participate in Wednesday’s vote.
The council has already set another special meeting at 4:30 p.m. Friday to revisit the issue.
Loupe, who was absent, was one of the sponsors of the measure, which frustrated Watson after the measure didn’t receive the votes it needed.
“The legality of all of this is completely in flux,” Watson said.
When asked about the Metro Council vote, ATC Commissioner Ernest P. Legier Jr. said his agency did not plan on changing its position that bars in East Baton Rouge Parish were authorized to reopen because of Broome’s request on Monday.
“Our agency is comfortable receiving a request at the level of government we received it,” he said. “And we will not be changing our position regarding anything.”
He added that he had heard about the possibility of a dispute within the city-parish government about reopening the bars in East Baton Rouge, though he has not spoken with anyone in the parish government.
“If there is a dispute, that’s our position” — to keep bars open, he said.
Legier said this is the first time since bars began to reopen after shutdowns this summer from the novel coronavirus that there has been a dispute within one government about whether to opt in and reopen.
“That has not occurred,” he said.
In a statement following Wednesday's vote, the Mayor's Office said they will continue to recognize the opt-in status for the parish, as requested earlier this by the mayor.
"[ATC] is comfortable having received the request for opt in from the mayor’s office. The approval will not be rescinded," spokesman Mark Armstrong said in an email.
Bars can immediately operate under eased restrictions as outlined by ATC, Armstrong added.