By Joel Hall
The Forest Park City Council voted Monday to extend a moratorium on issuing permits to adult-entertainment establishments until March 15.
On March 8, city attorneys will present the council with two versions of a new adult-entertainment ordinance, one of which will be voted on by the council.
City Attorney Robert Mack said the city's existing moratorium was set to expire on March 1, but that the extra two weeks will give the city the time necessary to properly advertise the proposed changes.
"Right now, we are advertising it [the proposed changes] for a public hearing on March 8," Mack said. "After the public hearing is closed, the mayor and council will vote on the ordinance. We have prepared two [versions of a new adult-entertainment ordinance], but the council will only vote on one of the two. Basically, the difference is whether or not to allow alcohol and nudity. One allows it, and one does not."
In March of last year, Forest Park passed a sweeping revision of its existing adult-entertainment ordinance, which barred full nudity, tipping, lap dances, and alcohol sales.
Following the passage of the ordinance, the city became involved in federal lawsuits with Jack Galardi, owner of Pink Pony South and Crazy Horse Saloon, in Forest Park, and Terry Stephenson, owner of Tops Showbar, an establishment that has attempted to locate in Forest Park -- next door to the Crazy Horse Saloon.
In May of last year, an Atlanta federal court judge denied Stephenson's request for a preliminary injunction that would have allowed him to open his establishment. During the same month, Galardi agreed to postpone a $70 million lawsuit against the city until a federal judge ruled on the constitutionality of the city's new adult-entertainment ordinance.
Galardi's attorney Aubrey Villines said the moratorium would not impact Pink Pony South or the Crazy Horse, and that he is in the process of trying to come to a compromise with the city.
"We have two clubs down there," Villines said. "At the moment, we're happy with what we have. We're in the process of talking. Once we reach an impasse, where we aren't going to settle, or the negotiations are not bearing any fruit, we would then lift the stay on discovery. That, of course, means more litigation and more attorneys' fees, which is what we are trying to avoid."
Stephenson could not be reached for comment on Monday.
In other business, the city voted to table an ordinance, which, if passed, would stiffen the fines associated with police officers responding to false (burglar) alarms. According to Forest Park Police Maj. Chris Matson, the changes would reduce the number of "free" false alarms per year, and institute a progressive fee schedule for those who repeatedly have false alarms.
"We're going from six free alarms to two," Matson said. "Even though we reduced the number of false alarms by 41 percent [since 2002], we're still wasting $11,000 in manpower responding to false alarms. We've got three main goals with this new ordinance: to hold the user more accountable; to reduce the number of false [alarms]; [and] avoid a complacent response that jeopardizes officer safety."
Presently, according to Matson, property owners with more than six false alarms a year are charged $50 for every subsequent false alarm. In the new ordinance, people would be charged $50 for the third false alarm, $75 for the fourth false alarm, and $100 for every subsequent false alarm.
Matson said the new ordinance would require residents to register their alarm systems with the city, and would create an appeal system, in which a resident could appeal a false alarm fee, first, to the chief of police, and then to the city manager.
Councilwoman Sparkle Adams, who motioned to table the ordinance for further discussion, said she believes a citizens' review board would be "more impartial" than a system in which staff members act as the final point of appeal.
"I think the citizens need to show more involvement in city issues; that way, there will be no bias," Adams said. "We have promised to the citizens to be transparent, and this is a move toward being transparent."
The next scheduled meeting of the Forest Park City Council is March 1.