The legal representative of TempleLive on Thursday alleged inappropriate actions taken by Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Control against their venue, but the party in question wasn’t there to give their side of the story.
Attorney John Scott of Conner & Winters alleged to the Arkansas Senate Committee on Senate Agencies and Governmental Affairs Beverage Control officials overstepped their legal boundaries by revoking the venue’s liquor license before venue officials made any formal announcement that they would hold the concert out of compliance with a cease-and-desist order issued by the Arkansas Department of Health in compliance with their COVID-19 directives. The venue’s Travis McCready concert was originally scheduled May 15 — three days prior to when performance venues were allowed to hold events like concerts — but moved into compliance with state directives after Beverage Control revoked their license the day before the show but promised it back if they moved the concert into compliance.
Beverage Control Secretary Larry Walther in a memo to the committee said Director Doralee Chandler would not appear in such a meeting with TempleLive representatives because “the appropriate venue for TempleLive to air their grievances is in a hearing before the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board.”
“The Board has the power to review any suspension of a permit by the director, by its own motion,” the letter reads.
Scott at the hearing said TempleLive directors at the end of April scheduled the concert for May 15 — a Friday night — because they anticipated venues in Arkansas would be allowed to reopen along with churches on May 4. The concert, which was short of the May 18 reopen date by three days, mandated facemasks and socially distanced seating “pods” that held only about 21% of the venue’s capacity.
Directors on May 12 learned the Department of Health had filed the cease-and-desist order with possible action from law enforcement if the concert proceeded, Scott said. He said Beverage Control on May 14 took their alcohol license with an ex parte order promising that it would be returned if they adhered to the dates in the state directive. Beverage Control inspectors a week earlier had surveyed the venue and complimented its directors for their compliance, Scott said.
Scott at the hearing said revoking the alcohol license before they formally announced they were going forward with the concert akin to a police officer disciplining a driver because they thought they were going to speed.
“We never announced we were going to have it over the cease-and-desist order,” he said.
Additional compliance questions
While senators took issue with Chandler’s absence — which they said was not from any ongoing litigation between the two parties — they still questioned Scott and TempleLive Vice President Mike Brown over the compliance of the event.
District 33 state Sen. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, asked if there were any audience members from “hotspots” in the United States. He specifically mentioned Louisiana, in which New Orleans at one point was recognized as a hotspot for the virus. The Times Record at the concert spoke to a family from Louisiana, including a couple from Baton Rouge.
Brown at the hearing said any ticketholders from active hot spots would have been turned away from the show.
Other senators asked Scott and Brown why they didn’t wait until May 4 to plan the event.
“Taking a gamble is not insubordination,” Brown said. “It’s saying, ‘Here’s our best guess.’”
Scott said it could legally be argued that the state infringed on constitutional rights, which guarantee a right to peaceful assembly, in this situation. He said he respects states’ rights to infringe on such rights during an emergency but only with good reason. He alleged any arguments or evidence provided in support of the reopening date was insufficient, especially since churches could open before them.
Several senators and representatives at the hearing voiced their frustration about Chandler’s absence from the hearing. District 13 state Sen. Alan Clark, R-Hot Springs, said they had “a real problem” that state officials from the executive branch — which has issued many directives during COVID-19 — declined to show.
“We’re not here to pick on agencies. We’re here to get the truth,” Clark said.