Forest Park has lately been obsessed with breasts.
In late May, elected officials in the tiny south metro city caught hell for enacting an out-of-the-blue public indecency ordinance that deemed breast-feeding in public unlawful unless the child enjoying his or her mother's milk al fresco is younger than 2. Unhappy about the arbitrary age limit, so-called "lactivists" staged a "nurse-in" outside city hall, resulting in an onslaught of media coverage — something it's safe to say Forest Park's rag-tag, five-member city council isn't accustomed to receiving.
To mitigate the overwhelmingly negative attention, the council amended the ordinance June 6 to remove the age limit on public breast-feeding. But the council's sensitivity to exposed mammaries hasn't been limited to nursing mothers.
Since 2009, Forest Park has been embroiled in a quiet legal tussle over legislation targeting adult entertainment establishments. Late that year, a new ordinance was passed to force strip clubs to choose between selling alcohol and nudity. Suddenly, cocktails and naked ladies could no longer co-exist.
Jack Galardi, owner of Pink Pony South and Crazy Horse Saloon — the city's only two strip clubs — filed suit in both district and federal courts. The city has been busy fighting both cases since then.
What's puzzling to many, including Councilwoman Karen Brandee Williams, is that the city's sudden crusade against indecency doesn't seem to be a reaction to any existing problems.
"We don't want 50 clubs like this in the city," Williams says, "but [we] have them here now, and [we] haven't had any problems that I've seen documented. Now [the council's] embarrassed the city, because [it's] attacking adult entertainment."
Forest Park certainly isn't the first place to attempt to purge itself of strip clubs. Because the First Amendment protects "erotic expression" as a form of free speech, a popular way for municipalities and county governments to try to snuff out strip clubs is to prohibit them from selling alcohol. Some cities have been successful by quoting studies that show the "adverse secondary effects" strip clubs have on surrounding communities. The preamble to Forest Park's embattled ordinance lists dozens of cities — from nearby Sandy Springs to not-so-nearby Seattle — where studies indicate that adult entertainment heightens crime and lowers property values. But Forest Park never performed its own study to see what effect its own clubs have had on criminal activity.
Galardi's attorney, Aubrey Villines, says using outside studies to justify banning alcohol sales in Forest Park's strip clubs demonstrates faulty logic.
"If you moved into a neighborhood and there was a liquor store two doors down from the house you wanted to buy, you'd say, 'What's the impact of that liquor store?' It would be like them saying, 'Well, lemme tell you what the impact was in Seattle or what it was in Indianapolis,'" he says.
Adds Villines: "I've heard the chief of police say we have more problems at the Chick-fil-A than we do at Pink Pony."
When Fulton County attempted to do away with drinking in strip clubs a few years back, rather than use outside evidence of adverse secondary effects, they were ordered to do their own official study. According to local attorney Alan Begner, who represents several local strip clubs, the Fulton study didn't turn out the way county officials had expected.
"The study came back showing the opposite," says Begner. "There was half as much crime [around strip clubs]."
Forest Park Councilwoman Sparkle Adams, who also serves as Mayor Pro Tem, voted against granting adult entertainment licenses to both Galardi clubs back in 2008, but was out-voted. Following the council's June 6 meeting, CL attempted to speak with Adams, but although her legislative actions suggest she has strong feelings about public indecency, she refused to comment. After trying to evade the media by slipping out a back door, Adams chided us for calling her at her home (the number was provided by a city receptionist) and said she would only discuss the city's next "teen council" meeting.
Councilwoman Williams says she believes there has been an effort to run the Pony and Crazy Horse out of town. "They've been a key figure in the community, they've been a blessing to certain institutions, been good business people, then all of a sudden [the council] is changing all the rules and laws and trying to run them out of business," she says. "I've never felt that was the right way to treat a business, especially when even the mayor has said they've been great to the city, and never been a problem."
The lawsuit Galardi filed in district court — which claims the city violated a consent agreement it entered into with the clubs — is still in front of a judge who will decide whether the clubs should be granted a temporary restraining order. In the other case, a federal judge refused a TRO request, but Galardi has appealed, claiming the ordinance violates the First Amendment.
In the meantime, the clubs are in a kind of limbo: They continue to serve alcohol, but since January dancers have worn bikinis, and Villines says the clubs are losing money as a result. Maybe an organized "strip-in" at city hall is in order.