No Truth Lounge public hearing at Monday’s special city meeting

Published 11:33 pm Monday, October 23, 2023

NATCHEZ — Two attorneys from The Cochran Firm in Jackson, as well as the owners of the Truth Lounge and about 15 of their supporters, showed up at Monday’s special meeting of the Mayor and Board of Aldermen expecting a public hearing.

The mayor and aldermen closed the Truth Lounge at a special meeting on Oct. 14 after an early morning fight inside that lounge took more than 17 minutes for officers to control and an unruly crowd on Franklin Street and Dr. Martin Luther King near the lounge threatened to overwhelm law enforcement.

At the Oct. 14 meeting, aldermen and the mayor said they were closing the lounge until such as time as the owners could come to their next meeting and show why they should continue to operate. They said at that time the next meeting would be Oct. 23.

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In the meantime, Sixth District Circuit Court Judge Debra Blackwell signed an “Agreed Order” on Thursday, Oct. 19, paving the way for the lounge to re-open immediately.

Blackwell ordered the city to take no further efforts to close Truth Lounge until further notice from the court. Blackwell’s order will remain in effect until further ordered and/or other formal proceedings before the City of Natchez.

On Monday night, Natchez Mayor Dan Gibson explained the meeting was a special called one and law only allows items specified on the agenda to be discussed. A hearing on the future of the Truth Lounge was not on the agenda.

City Attorney Bryan Callaway said since Blackwell’s order on Thursday, time did not allow for the proper public notice before a hearing is held on the Truth Lounge.

Ward 2 Alderman Billie Joe Frazier asked Callaway to provide notice to each alderman as soon as a new hearing date is set.

Further, Ward 4 Alderwoman Felicia Bridgewater-Irving questioned whether the special meeting held Oct. 14 in which the aldermen present and mayor voted to close the lounge was even a legal meeting.

At that special meeting, Ward 1 Alderwoman Valencia Hall, Ward 2 Alderwoman Sarah Carter Smith and Ward 6 Alderman Curtis Moroney attended the meeting along with Gibson. All four voted at that meeting to close Truth Lounge.

Ward 2 Alderman Billie Joe Frazier, Bridgewater-Irving and Ward 5 Alderman Ben Davis did not attend.

Bridgewater-Irving asked for an opinion from the state attorney general as to what constitutes a quorum.

“That’s illegal. With our board we have six aldermen. It takes four to have a meeting. It’s illegal,” she said. She asked attorney Callaway his opinion.

“I believe the mayor and three aldermen present constitute a quorum.”

“We need an opinion from the attorney general because we don’t want this to ever happen again,” Bridgewater-Irving said. Her motion, which was seconded by Frazier, passed unanimously.