Brookhaven City Council has agreed to start talks with owners of the Pink Pony strip club.
Although Councilwoman Rebecca Chase Williams argued the city would be taking a “bribe” if it cut a deal with the club, her fellow council members voted to meet with club representatives in private to try to negotiate an agreement.
At the beginning of the meeting, an impassioned Williams read from a statement she had emailed to constituents earlier in the day.
“I fear the political pressure will get to my colleagues on the council,” she said. “Earlier this year, the Pink Pony offered as much as $200,000 a year to not enforce the law against them. I happen to consider any payment other than normal licensing fees to be a bribe.”
But other city officials said the purpose of approving a non-disclosure agreement with the strip club would allow them to negotiate a deal in private.
“The purpose of this is to allow these two parties to communicate,” said Councilman Bates Mattison.
He said the city has already spent a considerable amount of taxpayer money on legal fees. “We have seen in other cities even after a Supreme Court ruling, litigation has continued for years,” he said.
The Georgia Supreme Court on Oct. 6 ruled that the city can regulate sexually oriented businesses. Then, on Oct. 8, the city filed a request for a court order that would require the Pink Pony to obey a city ordinance that says sexually-oriented businesses cannot serve alcohol.
The injunction would mean the club needs to obtain a valid sexually-oriented business license from the city, close at midnight, order its dancers to refrain from removing all their clothes, and not serve alcoholic beverages if the dancers are semi-nude.
Williams said the non-disclosure agreement and negotiations weren’t needed since the Georgia Supreme Court already ruled in Brookhaven’s favor.
Mayor J. Max Davis said he was open to negotiating. “I’ll never be close-minded to listening to someone who has reached out or wants to talk about any issue,” he said.
Davis said that talks with parties the city is involved in litigation with are held privately so that both parties can speak freely without fear of repercussions, leaks or partial information getting out, and if discussions are “fruitful” they will be brought before the public so the council can approve or disapprove of any further actions.
“If we can have a solution whereby an existing business is allowed to stay under certain conditions for a certain period of time while at the same time keeping other new business out – stopping proliferation of strip clubs along Buford Highway or anywhere else in our city, I think that’s something we ought to pursue,” Davis
Davis also referred to the email read by Williams at the start of the meeting as “irresponsible” and “beneath the level of professionalism” he expects from the council.
“I make no apologies,” Williams said. “I think this is a bad deal for the city. I don’t see any reason to be talking [with them]. Why we are negotiating, I don’t understand. We really should just be asking them to comply with the ordinance.”
Below is the full text from an email statement from Williams that she also read from at the Oct. 28 Brookhaven City Council meeting:
As most of you know, the City of Brookhaven recently won a unanimous victory in the Georgia Supreme Court when the Court ruled in favor of the city on all counts in the lawsuit brought by the strip club—The Pink Pony. When we became a city, we all agreed that we wanted to limit the proliferation of sexually oriented businesses—that is, strip clubs, massage parlors, and sex toy stores that could turn Buford Hwy into Cheshire Bridge Road or some kind of red light district.
We unanimously passed a very strong, constitutionally sound law that we believed would withstand the assaults that the sexually oriented business industry makes on local laws.
We also decided that we would not accept a previous settlement that DeKalb made, which was to accept a $100,000 a year payment from the Pink Pony in exchange for allowing that club to violate its laws. We considered that a bribe and said we just wouldn’t do that.
So now, we have won a huge victory in the courts. We have filed for an injunction, which is the legal process to order the Pink Pony to follow the law. The City filed an affidavit documenting paid sexual contact in the Pink Pony, at $235 per VIP room visit, in violation of state law and multiple ordinances. The affidavit describe a host of illegal activities, but it is clear the Pink Pony is selling sex whether it is a $10 lap dances or the promise of a “more intimate experience” in the back rooms.
Here’s the problem. The Pink Pony continues to seek a deal from the City of Brookhaven so it can continue violating the law. Settling with the Pink Pony is a big issue in the District 2 race, but there is no suit to settle since the City won in the Georgia Supreme Court.
I fear the political pressure will get to my colleagues on the council. Earlier this year, the Pink Pony offered the city $200,000 a year to not enforce the law against them and the club continues to pressure the elected officials.
I am calling on my colleagues to not succumb to political pressure from a strip club. I consider any kind of payment outside of regular licensing fees to be a bribe.
At no time has this effort been a religious or moral crusade. It is about having legal, constitutional laws and enforcing them.
Other cities have gone down this path, but settlements with strip clubs have led only to more litigation and problems. Today, the City of Houston, the City of El Paso, and Horry County, South Carolina (where Myrtle Beach is located) are in court because of settlement agreements with strip clubs from years ago. Other powerful strip clubs are suing, arguing that the city’s agreement to take money to ignore their laws is nothing but a bribe, and that it violates the Equal Protection clause of the US Constitution as well as federal anti-trust laws.
So here is my plea. We won. Let’s enforce the law and uphold the Constitution, which poses no liability for the city. Let’s be true to our promise to limit the negative effects of sexually oriented businesses in Brookhaven. Let’s not become an equity partner in an industry that exploits women and breaks local and state laws.
We said Brookhaven wouldn’t cut deals and that we would treat all our businesses accordingly to the law. And what about the promised economic development of Buford Highway?
The Pink Pony has done a good job of convincing many of our citizens that they are a model business that contributes a lot of money to the city. Both are lies. To date, the Pink Pony has paid the City of Brookhaven $26,000 in alcohol excise tax, and $242 in city property tax. Oh, and they have been operating illegally—without an alcohol license—for nearly 2 years.
There are no past citations of wrongdoing because for $100,000 a year, DeKalb County looked the other way. And for the last 18 months, the City of Brookhaven has not enforced its law because the City was waiting for the Georgia Supreme Court to uphold its ordinance.
The Pink Pony knows how to play the game. They have been running full-page ads for more than a year, full of lies and misrepresentations, even blaming us for the legal fees that they caused by their actions in suing the City. I personally have been maligned and harassed, and am tired of being politically bullied by a desperate industry that is losing in courts across the country.
Let me repeat. We have won. Now we need to enforce the law, uphold the constitution and not entangle the City in any deal with a strip club that sued the City and lost on every single claim. It will only lead to more litigation down the road, more strip clubs, more sex shops.
I will not sign any such deal, and I urge my colleagues not to follow this precarious path. I ask for you, the citizens, to help me uphold our principles and the law and to tell the Pink Pony that “no means no!”
We have heard plenty from the “Leave the Pink Pony alone” folks, but have not heard from citizens who might agree with the above. If you do, I ask you to email the other elected officials.