Metro Council still meeting today, but bar owners paying little attention

    The Metro Council is meeting later this afternoon to vote on a resolution that would support the reopening of bars in East Baton Rouge Parish, which failed to muster enough votes to pass earlier this week. Yet regardless of the outcome, local bar owners aren’t holding their breath, as many have already reopened and are more concerned about the attached restrictions.

    Today’s meeting comes as Parish Attorney Andy Dotson and some council members argue that, based on the governor’s executive order, which says the “governing authority” of a parish must opt-in to the state’s guidelines for reopening bars, the Metro Council carries the ultimate authority to do so, given that the city-parish plan of government denotes the council as its official “governing authority.”

    However, Mayor Sharon Weston Broome on Monday formally requested the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control lift restrictions on bars in the parish, to which the ATC then granted “opt-in” status. Though the council questioned the legality of this, the ATC confirmed it would not rescind its acceptance of Broome’s request and clarified that bars could continue operating.

    Politics aside, there’s no indication that the outcome of the council’s special meeting will have any impact on local bar owners’ decisions on whether to reopen, particularly considering the ATC is their regulatory authority. What’s more, after six months of being shut down, many find they don’t have a choice but to keep doing business.

    “I opened last night because the governing authority that could shut me down has indicated that they will not,” says Pamela Sandoz, who owns The Bookstore bar on Airline Highway.

    Fred’s in Tigerland opened two nights ago to business that was “barely better” than when the bar was closed, says owner Marc Fraioli, noting the ATC and state fire marshal have stopped by his establishment both nights. But he hasn’t been keeping tabs on the politics of the debacle between the council and the mayor, nor does he intend to.

    “Pretty much everyone in Tigerland has reopened because it was explained to us that we could,” Fraioli says. “It just seems like it’s a foregone conclusion at this point.”

    What’s more pressing to Fraioli is whether the governor will relieve some of the reopening guidelines for bars in the coming weeks. Specifically, Fraioli hopes more people will soon be allowed in Fred’s outdoor area than the 50 currently permitted.

    His general concerns are shared by Brad Watts, who owns The River Room downtown. Watts hasn’t reopened yet, largely because he isn’t sure when some of the capacity and serving restrictions will be lifted or at least loosened. Moreover, he’s uneasy about the executive order’s contingency that if the parish’s incidence of positive COVID-19 cases jumps to 10%, bars will be shut down again.

    Watts says he’s going to wait 10 to 12 days to determine whether to reopen The River Room in light of the uncertainties. But today’s council decision will have no bearing on his final call.

    “I’m paying more attention to the market than I am to what the Metro Council says this afternoon,” Watts says. “I’m not going to get involved with council issues or the mayor’s issues—I have my own issues to worry about.”

    Still, council member Dwight Hudson says the virtual meeting remains scheduled for 4:30 p.m. today because the council has an obligation to vote.

    “While I am thankful the ATC has approved the mayor’s request, they are operating outside of the requirements set forth in the executive order,” Hudson says. “If the governor’s intention was to allow parish presidents to have ‘opt-in’ authority, then he needs to update his executive order to reflect that.”