Mediation ends without vote

Forest Park Mayor David Lockhart

Forest Park Mayor David Lockhart

JONESBORO — More than three hours of mediation Thursday night failed to bring an end to a federal lawsuit brought against Forest Park by a corporation that operates strip clubs.

Galardi Enterprises, the corporation behind Pink Pony South and Crazy Horse Saloon, has sued the City of Forest Park in superior or federal courts about a dozen times in the past few years. The city prevailed each time and even got attorneys fees in at least one case.

But with last year’s change in city leadership and attorneys, council members agreed to mediate the most recent federal suit. Thursday’s mediation was the city’s second this year.

Mayor David Lockhart said a decision was not reached despite the lengthy negotiations.

“We didn’t make a decision tonight,” said Lockhart. “I’m sure our attorneys will be in discussions.”

Lockhart and the full council met with city attorneys Steve Fincher and Mike Williams. Included in the discussion were City Manager Frank Brandon, Forest Park police Chief Dwayne Hobbs and fire Chief Eddie Buckholts.

However, the mediation, held at the Fincher Law Firm in Jonesboro, was not open to the public.

Attorneys representing the strip clubs, one of whom has called the ongoing litigation “a blood feud” that will not end until the clubs are allowed to reopen, left the office without making a comment.

Council members voted after the first mediation Feb. 11 to continue negotiations but Lockhart said Thursday there isn’t a third date set.

“We don’t know that there will be another mediation,” he said.

Pink Pony and Crazy Horse opened in Forest Park years ago as strip clubs, but their potency was diluted when the city revised its adult entertainment ordinance in March 2009. The ordinance bars complete nudity, tipping, lap dances and alcohol sales.

The following year, council members 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, Forest Park 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 litany of illegal activities. Council members appointed an independent hearing officer in September 2011 to determine if the clubs should lose their alcohol or business licenses.

City attorneys presented video surveillance from inside the clubs that contradicted much of the testimony of employees, who insisted dancers and customers followed the letter of the law.

As a result of those hearings, the city revoked the clubs’ business and alcohol licenses. In December 2011, council members 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. The clubs closed Jan. 16, 2012.

“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.”