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Mediation goes on in strip club case

FOREST PARK — City Council members agreed Monday to continue mediation efforts in settling a federal case involving the owners of two Forest Park strip clubs shuttered by the city in 2011.

The corporation behind Pink Pony South and Crazy Horse Saloon has initiated — and lost — about a dozen legal battles with Forest Park over the years.

The courts have repeatedly upheld the city’s decision to close the clubs based on the 2011 findings of an independent hearing officer.

Council members participated in the first mediation Feb. 11 at the Jonesboro office of City Attorney Steve Fincher, according to a Feb. 8 special meeting notice.

When city council convened for a regular meeting Feb. 17, the board went into closed session for close to an hour to discuss the pending litigation. Back in the open meeting, Mayor David Lockhart called for a motion to amend the agenda to include potential action on mediation with the strip clubs.

Councilwoman Linda Lord made the motion to continue mediation and Councilman Tommy Smith seconded it. Mayor Pro Tem Maudie McCord cast the lone dissenting vote without explanation.

The businesses opened years ago as strip clubs but their potency was diluted when the city revised its adult entertainment ordinance in March 2009, barring complete nudity, tipping, lap dances and alcohol sales.

The following year, the city council issued a moratorium on permits to adult clubs until March 15, 2011, to give the city time to properly advertise proposed changes.

After taking public input, the city adopted a new ordinance with the tighter restrictions. Presented with the choice to offer nude dancing without alcohol or to offer drinking without nudity, the clubs chose to serve food and alcohol, thus becoming bikini bars.

But Forest Park officials alleged the clubs continued to provide nude dancing, and that dancers and customers engaged in a other illegal activities. City council appointed a hearing officer in September 2011 to determine if the clubs should lose their alcohol or business licenses.

As a result of the fall 2011 hearings, both clubs had their business and alcohol licenses revoked. In December 2011, council voted to change the ordinance to reflect a license revocation as grounds for denying a new license.

City ordinances don’t allow for the issuance of an alcohol license to a business that doesn’t have an operating license.

Since the clubs closed Jan. 16, 2012, attorneys and officials associated with the clubs have attended city council meetings, vowing to “not go away” and promising continued litigation.

“You’re setting yourselves up for another litigation,” said club attorney Simon Bloom during an April 2012 meeting. “I know mayor and council have nothing but the best for the city at heart.”

Bloom called the situation a “blood feud” for which there is “no end in sight.”

The latest suit targets Lord, who wrote a letter to the editor in Clayton News Daily in November in reference to the hearing officer’s 2011 findings. Lord wrote a subsequent letter apologizing for mischaracterizing the findings but the clubs’ owners filed a defamation suit against Lord Dec. 19.