Brookhaven, GA, March 10 – City Councilwoman, Rebecca Chase-Williams, shares her perspective in the following Opinion/Editorial:
Do you want strip clubs, sex stores, and massage parlors opening throughout Brookhaven?
By Rebecca Chase-Williams
That’s a question that the city council faced on its first day in office.
Cities can’t ban sexually oriented businesses, “shut them down,” or “zone them out.” They are protected by the First Amendment and many cities have struggled with this regulation dilemma for years. The courts have ruled that governments can regulate sexually oriented businesses to prevent their documented “negative secondary effects,” such as prostitution, sexually transmitted disease, drug activity, and their blighting effects on the community. Brookhaven’s elected officials, as part of a much larger plan to create an attractive and desirable city for generations to come, have adopted regulations to prevent these negative secondary effects. And we’re doing so within the law, the Constitution, and the precedents that have been set by the courts.
Brookhaven’s sexually oriented business ordinance corrected major flaws in the DeKalb County law, and tracks ordinances passed by every new city around us as well as by dozens of other cities throughout the country. It, like ordinances in Fulton County, Marietta, Doraville, Sandy Springs, and yes, even DeKalb County, prohibits serving alcohol in sexually oriented businesses. This regulation is based on numerous crime studies and on what the U.S. Supreme Court upheld as “common sense”—“that any form of nudity coupled with alcohol in a public place begets undesirable behavior.” Compliance with our law may require a change in an establishment’s business model, but it doesn’t force any club “out of business.” There are plenty of profitable “erotic” nightclubs in cities around the country with profitable businesses under similar ordinances.
The City didn’t offer the existing strip club the same “arrangement” it had with DeKalb County, which allowed the club to ignore DeKalb’s laws in exchange for a yearly cash payment. Our lawyers warned against it, citing similar settlements that had been thrown out as invalid and explaining that an agreement given to just one business could be struck down as a violation of the Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of equal protection under law. How could we exempt one business from our laws, without exempting others? Just because DeKalb had such an agreement doesn’t make it right. We have sworn to uphold the Constitution, not to ignore it.
The owners of the Pink Pony filed suit against Brookhaven, seeking to continue to operate outside the law, but the DeKalb Superior Court held that the DeKalb County’s agreement did not bind Brookhaven. It also upheld the City’s ordinances as constitutional, finding that the Pink Pony’s arguments had no legal merit. We will continue to defend the City’s ordinances in the Georgia Supreme Court, which has upheld similar laws.
Please remember, the Pink Pony filed the lawsuit, and thus should not be heard to complain about the City’s expense (which has been lower than they estimated) to defend what Pink Pony initiated. Even now, Pink Pony has made a public offer of $200,000 to settle the case, but that is wholly unnecessary because Pink Pony, as the plaintiff, can unilaterally end the suit at any time.
Brookhaven has not enforced its ordinance while this case has worked its way through the courts, and the Pink Pony remains open for business. Just because due process can take awhile does not mean that city officials spend much time on this issue. We are busy working on master plans, getting ready for millions of dollars in street paving, improving our parks, supporting our police department, moving into a new city halls and moving the city forward.
We too are anxious for the courts to rule on this issue and put it to rest. Because these are the questions that ultimately need to be answered: Should your city officials allow some businesses to buy their way out of operating under the law? Should your elected officials abide by the Constitution and apply the law equally to all businesses, or pick and choose winners and losers? And most importantly, who do you want to chart the vision for the City of Brookhaven, the people you elected as Mayor and Council, or the businesses that cut a sweetheart deal with DeKalb County years ago to avoid complying with laws that other businesses in their industry must follow?