LITTLE ROCK -- Alcoholic Beverage Control Director Doralee Chandler on Wednesday repeatedly defended to lawmakers her decision to temporarily suspend the alcoholic beverage permit of Fort Smith music venue TempleLive to force the delay of a concert.
The concert had been set for May 15, three days before the state Department of Health allowed large venues to reopen. The venues were closed in March because of the coronavirus pandemic. The concert was held May 18.
At the Legislative Council meeting Wednesday, Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, told Chandler: "I want to apologize to you for being put in a very difficult position that I think asked you to take certain actions.
"They, frankly, should be the ones sitting in the seat and not you," he said.
"What I think is that we have an unforeseen situation. We have very stressed times," Rapert said.
"I think that people began to maybe get a little power trip when they saw that maybe what they wanted to happen in Fort Smith was not about to happen, that they decided to look out across the space of the agencies and folks that might have authority and decide we wanted to take a closer look," Rapert said.
He asked Chandler, "Were you instructed out of the clear blue to suddenly take a look at TempleLive and see if there was any action you could take based upon the statutes and the authority of your department?"
Chandler replied, "Yes, sir."
Sen. Bob Ballinger, R-Berryville, said earlier in the meeting that he was frustrated about Chandler not showing up to explain the matter at a May 21 meeting of the House and Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs committees.
"I feel like part of our job as a legislative body is oversight," he told Chandler. "Part of your job is to show up and give an explanation."
Rapert told Chandler, "I happen to know that you and others in the executive [branch] would have been here quickly and [were] willing to come that day that first meeting was called, but you were instructed not to come that day, correct?"
Chandler replied, "Correct."
She told Ballinger that as Gov. Asa Hutchinson "indicated in the statement that he made, I was under instructions not to appear [May 21] because we wanted to avoid an adversarial position that may occur." TempleLive had representatives at that meeting. Chandler said her agency has set a hearing for the coming Wednesday on the TempleLive situation if venue officials "want to voice objections to the process that took place."
Ballinger said he wanted to hear Chandler's side of the story, after hearing from TempleLive officials at the previous meeting.
Chandler said the emergency permit suspension was allowed under the Administrative Procedure Act "in order to have the health and safety that was set out in the directives of the Department of Health."
Ballinger pressed Chandler: "What is the difference in the health concerns in three days? From the 15th to 18th day, explain to me what was going to change in the virus or in the community that would make a difference there."
Chandler said it is not within her authority to question the laws, rules and directives from the Health Department.
"Just as we are required to enforce [that] entities can't sell to anyone under the age of 21, I don't have the authority to question whether it should be 20 [years] and 360 days versus the actual age of 21," she said.
In response to a question from Sen. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, Chandler said that after TempleLive declined to comply with the Health Department's cease-and-desist order, "we were instructed to issue the emergency suspension of the permit." The agency picked up the permit the morning of May 14.
Chandler said the permit was picked up after TempleLive officials had told health officials that the concert would be held May 15, which state officials confirmed by a review of its ticket-sales website and social media.
She said the TempleLive license was returned by 1 p.m. May 14.
Hutchinson has said he directed Chandler not to attend the May 21 meeting of the State Agencies committees.
"We also welcome legislative oversight, but we expect that agency directors will not be asked to attend a hearing under one premise and surprised by additions to the agenda that have the potential to place an agency director in adversarial circumstances with an entity regulated by the state," the Republican governor said.
State Desk on 06/01/2020
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