Jones asks for council help on St. John lounge permits

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 7, 2005


Staff Reporter

LAPLACE – To stem violence perpetuated from improperly run bars and lounges, Sheriff Wayne L. Jones is asking the St. John the Baptist Parish Council and parish administration to grant him a more viable role in approving occupational licenses that request the sale of alcohol.

In a letter addressed to Parish Council Chairman Joel McTopy, Jones wrote, “It would be my recommendation that the (occupational license) application specifically bars, lounges, restaurant bars as previously mentioned, be forwarded to me in addition to the Planning and Zoning, District Council and Councilman at Large and that after I have an opportunity to review, I would sign off approving or disapproving, forwarding same to the Parish President for final disposition.” The current procedure already ends up in Monica’s office for final approval.

From his office Wednesday, Jones said, the sheriff’s office wants to run a more thorough background check on applicants and their associates.

He said he also wants to run FBI checks on an applicant to determine if the individual is a known, convicted felon.

Jones made minor changes to the occupational license application that is presently being used. He is presenting a revised copy of the application to the parish council and to Monica for their approval. Participating parties will review the application and make recommendations for change.

The new application requires a business license applicant to name its potential business manager and/or operator. It asks for the approval or disapproval of the sheriff, the district councilman and the councilman at large.

The last signature required on the application is that of the parish president. He reviews remarks from the sheriff and the two council members, before ultimately deciding whether or not the license will be granted.

Responding to the sheriff’s letter, McTopy said, “The Parish Council is working with Sheriff Jones to safeguard the application process. We are on-board with the sheriff. We think it is important that public officials join together and unite to improve our parish operations.”

Chief Administrative Officer Natalie Robottom said, “Administration has always followed a process specified in the parish ordinance. However, administration welcomes the opportunity to work closer with the sheriff’s office and we will continue our efforts – specifically with regard to occupational licenses.”

Robottom said, in the past, the sheriff’s office ran a background check on applicants and presented its findings to the Planning and Zoning Department. The findings lastly went to Monica for consideration. She said it is her understanding that the sheriff will now perform a more thorough background check into the acquaintances of an applicant.

“It is obviously better to have additional eyes looking into the situation. Hopefully the results will be a better product,” said Robottom. She added that she will check to see if council members want to again be part of the process. Several years ago, she said, the council voted not to participate in the procedure.

Jones is pushing for a better relationship between bar owners and the sheriff’s office. He said he wants club owners to feel comfortable reporting problems and crimes to the sheriff’s office.

“I want them to know that calling the sheriff’s office to address problems will not hurt their business,” said Jones. “In fact, we believe quite the opposite. We believe their patrons want them to do this.”

The sheriff said officers will frequent nightclubs and bars from time to time to check up on things.

“We want to know who is running a club at all times. We want to know what is going on in that establishment,” said Jones.

The sheriff said there are very few nightclubs that present a problem.

However, he said residents on Airline Highway have expressed concerned with several establishments in the neighborhood.

Jones said ownership of some bars change every two to three months and that several operators of the clubs have criminal backgrounds.

He said there is also a problem with one person obtaining a business license for another individual.

In Jones’s letter to McTopy, the sheriff explained how a woman applied for a club license in her name, then allowed two unnamed men to run the establishment. Jones wrote, “… based on sheriff’s office intelligence, information from informants and other confidential sources, the bar is operated by individuals who have extensive criminal records and currently have been sentenced to state time in jail for distribution of crack cocaine. One of the men is serving a 12-year sentence and the other is serving a 10-year sentence,” wrote Jones.

Jones said a background check into an applicant’s associates will help alleviate this problem.

The sheriff said he is requesting the checks on establishments serving alcohol because that is where authorities have the most problems. He said, however, investigations can and will be made in other instances, if the need arises.

McTopy said, “We have stringent, sufficient laws on the book….We will work to find weakness in the laws designed to govern nightclubs, liquor licenses and businesses. We will strengthen these laws.”

The chairman said he will bring the matter before the parish council when the group meets on Feb. 10.

Jones said he, the administration and the parish council are operating within legal perimeters.