By Joel Hall
Members of the adult entertainment industry in Forest Park are furious over what they view as a drastic revision of the city's adult entertainment ordinance, and are threatening legal action.
While city council members argue that the new ordinance is necessary to maintain the city's quality of life, lawyers representing adult businesses call the changes unconstitutional.
Attorneys representing club owners say the new ordinance diminishes the profitability of adult businesses. The ordinance makes it illegal for alcoholic beverages to be sold, or consumed, on the premises of any adult business, as of Jan. 1, 2010.
Changes effective this week include:
· All dancing by adult entertainment performers shall occur on a platform intended for that purpose, which is raised at least 18 inches from the floor.
· All areas of an adult entertainment establishment shall be fully lighted at all times patrons are present.
· No dancing, or other performance by an adult entertainer shall occur closer than four feet to any patron.
· No patron shall directly pay, or give any gratuity to, any adult entertainer.
· No adult entertainer shall solicit any pay, or gratuity, from any patron.
Forest Park City Manager John Parker said the city's previous adult entertainment ordinance was "somewhat vague," and that the new ordinance will give the city new tools to police activity inside adult establishments.
"The mayor and council have the responsibility of providing areas that will protect First Amendment rights and the community," he said. "This ordinance will provide some more comprehensive monitoring of the operation, thereby, providing an extra level of safety."
Aubrey Villines, legal counsel for the Pink Pony South and The Crazy Horse Saloon, two establishments which currently exist in Forest Park, said the new ordinance unfairly targets the adult industry and makes it virtually impossible for clubs to operate.
"They decided what their destination was, which was to have this new ordinance, then they rationalized the journey," he said. "It's blatantly, and obviously unconstitutional. There is no tipping at all, and the lighting is like a football field. They've passed this totally to put them out of business, and it will put them out of business."
The new ordinance was approved Monday, in a 4-1 vote, with councilman Donald Judson opposed. Councilwoman Linda Lord, who voted for the ordinance, said while she is wary of the litigation the new ordinance may encourage, she believes the old ordinance needed to be updated.
"I wasn't happy with everything in the new ordinance, because there were some things that were contentious," Lord said. "We have a lot of good things going on in Forest Park, and I thought that this would lead to more money and time being dedicated to this litigation than is needed. I voted for it because, frankly, the old ordinance was outdated and we needed a new ordinance."
Lord said the city is "more comfortable" with the new ordinance and hopes it will "act as a deterrent to keep anyone else from opening another adult entertainment enterprise" in Forest Park.
Judson said he opposed the new ordinance because banning strip clubs from serving alcohol would make it legal for 18-year-olds to patronize them. "[The new ordinance] will probably stop others from coming in, because they can't sell adult beverages," he said. "The [adult businesses] that are here, I have no idea what they want to do. That is one of their main sources of income. I don't know who would go to some place that you can't sell alcohol."
Council members Sparkle Adams, Maudie McCord and Debbie Youmans could not be reached for comment Thursday.
On Feb. 19, Terry Stephenson, owner of the Tops Showbar franchise, a third adult establishment that wants to operate in the city, filed a federal lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the City of Forest Park for denying his business an alcohol license. The suit, which will be heard in federal court next week, also claims that the city failed to issue an adult entertainment license to Stephenson in a timely manner. Stephenson has leased property next to the Crazy Horse Saloon for more than a year.
Stephenson's lawyer, Alan Begner, said the new ordinance is "a direct attempt to ruin our business" and that he would join other adults businesses in challenging the ordinance.
"I take it personally that they would try to ruin my client's life," Begner said. "That is not about fairness, but about maximum damage. When you pass a law specifically to put people out of business, it's a risky thing. I don't think they've let the citizens know what is at stake. If there is no exception carved out [for Pink Pony South and the Crazy Horse Saloon], we will be allies against the new law."
On Thursday, Villines said he plans on suing Forest Park in both federal and Clayton County Superior Court, and may organize employees of Pink Pony South and The Crazy Horse in a class-action lawsuit against the city.
"They picked a fight that they didn't need to pick, and they walked across the street to pick it," he said.