2:30 Friday afternoon, LaFayette Police Department suspended Chattanooga Street Tavern’s beer/wine pouring license. A few minutes later the Tavern and Mars Theater both closed in dramatic fashion, with signs claiming they were shut down “by order of the city.” Similar messages were posted on the organizations’ Facebook pages.
Temporary removal of the alcohol license came from reports a week earlier of hard liquor being served illegally at nearby Mars Theater on Valentine’s Day. LPD investigated the issue for a week before action was taken, speaking with employees of the Tavern and at least one individual involved with the Arts Guid, which supposedly benefitted from the V-Day fundraiser.
City sources say Chattanooga Street Tavern and Mars Theater were NOT ordered to close – the business just lost its pouring license temporarily until accusations of serving liquor illegally can be sorted out. A hearing on the issue is required within ten days, probably before the end of this week.
So why DID the businesses close?
Tavern owner Mike Lovelady has given two reasons : one is the business can’t make money without selling alcohol. However, the Tavern food isn’t terrible – some people would come in and eat. His supporters would come in and eat to back his fight against the city.
And by law, the Tavern must make at least 70% of revenue from food sales. That’s not just a LaFayette rule; even in towns where hard liquor is allowed, there are usually rules like 70/30 in place. So the owner’s claim that they NEED beer and wine sales to stay open could cost them their license permanently, and not because of what happened on Valentine’s Day.
The other reason Lovelady cited is a law saying alcohol cannot be in a business without an alcohol license even if it’s not being sold. That’s apparently true, but why didn’t he apply that same logic to having liquor at Mars Theater, which never had a pouring license to begin with? He seems awfully familiar with the law NOW but claims ignorance of the law, and the activities, of a week earlier.
That said, Lovelady’s real reason for closing down is to generate support. He needs to inconvenience his customers as much as possible, generate maximum sympathy for himself, and then use political pressure to force the city to ignore his violations of the law. He’s purposefully destroying himself, trying to become a martyr for the cause of breaking laws voters approved in 2009.
If Mike can’t do what he wants, how he wants, wherever he wants, he’ll take his ball and go home – employees and claims of community interest be damned. He’s hurting his employees, his vendors, people who perform in his restaurant. He’s also essentially destroyed the Arts Guild. All because he wanted to push the issue of liquor sales ahead of the law and can’t handle some minor punishment without throwing a hissy.
Neither Lovelady or his employee who served the alcohol have denied it was there, but have claimed the well-advertised party was a “private event” exempted from the law. They’ve also claimed the whiskey shots were given away free to those who attended the event, even though it cost $75 to get in and the “suggested” donation for each shot was $5. They’ve also refused to say who purchased the alcohol in the first place.
That may not matter: Georgia law holds building owners responsible for alcohol sales if they knew it was present. By most accounts, Lovelady knew of the liquor and plans to serve it ahead of time – meaning he could face misdemeanor charges under O.C.G.A. § 3-10-5.
A date for the hearing has not yet been decided, but an announcement will likely be made before Tuesday. So far there are no details of exactly how such a meeting will be conducted and what kind of punishments might be handed down IF accusations are substantiated, but the hearing could feature testimony from multiple witnesses, party guests, and Tavern employees. It might also feature a crowd of worked-up emotional Lovelady supporters screaming about changing the city’s alcohol rules, which is an entirely separate issue that will likely be addressed later on.
UPDATED 02/25: Hearing on this issue will be held Wednesday Feb. 26th at 11 AM.
Hutcheson has responded to Erlanger’s lawsuit with a countersuit, claiming Erlanger did $133 MILLION in damages during a now-ended two year operating agreement that left HMC and its county owners owing the Chattanooga hospital over $20 million.
Hutcheson and Walker County have together hired ex-governor Roy Barnes as legal counsel. Commissioner Heiskell describes attorney Barnes as “very, very good” – but he’s also very very EXPENSIVE. His legal fees could end up costing hundreds of thousands in a case the county and hospital are almost guaranteed to lose. (Catoosa County has hired its own attorney, while Dade was not included in the lawsuit.)
- WQCH Radio, 02/21/14: “AMONG THE ‘BREACHES’ ALLEGED, BARNES WRITES THAT ERLANGER ‘OPERATED HUTCHESON AS A TRANSFER FACILITY, WITH THE ONLY BENEFICIARY BEING ERLANGER’ AND CLAIMS THAT COST HUTCHESON 54-MILLION DOLLARS
- “FURTHER CLAIMS INCLUDE: FAILING TO HIRE A QUALIFIED CEO UNTIL 9-MONTHS INTO THE AGREEMENT, FAILING TO HIRE HOSPITAL-BASED PHYSICIANS, FAILURE TO RE-FINANCE LONG-TERM DEBT AT AVAILABLE LOWER INTEREST RATES, AND FAILURE TO PAY IRS WITHHOLDING TAXES.”
The hospital says a total of $133 million in damage was done over two years, but Hutcheson will settle the case for only $75 million (the total amount of debt to various entities) plus debt forgiveness from Erlanger.
Erlanger describes the lawsuit as “silly.” Lawyers for the Chattanooga hospital say most Hutcheson issues they “failed to fix” would have been addressed if the Hutcheson board had been more cooperative.
Walker County public school students will make up for recent snow days by staying at school an extra 20 minutes each day for the rest of the school year. The change begins March 3rd.
The state has decided schools are NOT required to make up nine snow days, but local school leaders were apparently concerned about lost teaching time.