The East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council’s second vote on a resolution to reopen bars following shutdowns from the coronavirus went a lot smoother Friday.
Council members unanimously passed the resolution during a special meeting Friday after they couldn’t muster up the seven votes they needed at a previous meeting Wednesday. More members were present at the meeting Friday afternoon than Wednesday's.
However, the council's vote Friday was mostly a symbolic one.
The city met the state's coronavirus testing benchmarks Wednesday, and the state's Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control approved a reopening request from Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome. Bars reopened and on-premise alcohol sales had already resumed, despite the council not passing the resolution the first time.
But the parish attorney has said the reopening request should have come from the Metro Council. The governor's executive order outlining Phase 3 restrictions says the governing authority of a parish was required to opt-in, and the Metro Council is the governing authority, he said.
“It’s quite clear to me we are the ones who are supposed to make this decision,” Councilman Dwight Hudson said during Friday’s meeting. “I’m glad the Mayor’s Office sent a letter to ATC. But ATC is operating outside the guidelines of the governor’s order.”
Hudson added: “If the folks making the rules are not going to follow their own rules, how do they expect the public to follow the rules being set out there?”
More of the council’s discussion during Friday’s brief meeting was centered around the absence of so many members when they convened Wednesday. Most of the council’s Democrats and Republican Councilman Chandler Loupe, one of the sponsors of the reopening measure, were absent at that first meeting, sparking some backlash from the public and igniting some terse remarks among the council members.
The council fell one vote short of approving the item Wednesday because the lone Democrat who did attend, Erika Green, abstained. She later said she still harbored concerns about bars reopening.
Council members Chauna Banks, LaMont Cole and Green did not attend Friday’s special-called meeting. Those in attendance included Trae Welch, Scott Wilson, Donna Collins-Lewis, Denise Amoroso, Tara Wicker, Matt Watson, Jennifer Racca, Hudson and Loupe.
Wicker and Collins-Lewis both tried to quash rumors that their absences were part of an alliance with Broome, a fellow Democrat, to give her a perceived political win ahead of November’s municipal elections.
Wicker reiterated comments she made to The Advocate that she was dealing with a medical emergency with her mother, and Collins-Lewis said she had a previous engagement.
“I don’t shrug my responsibilities; I show up at meetings. I took offense to that,” she said before Friday’s vote. “In my 12 years of being on the council I only thing I missed a few times. I do take my responsibility very seriously.”