KEVIN LEININGER: City’s ‘undercover’ investigation influenced votes on sexually oriented businesses

Before City Council voted to regulate strip clubs, the city investigated what goes on in them. ( News-Sentinel.com file photo)
John Crawford
Kevin Leininger

At the same meeting a week ago, City Council agreed to tougher regulations on strip joints and other sexually oriented businesses but defeated a bill that would have banned clubs that facilitate actual sex.

Some undercover work — almost literally — helps explain the seeming contradiction in logic.

According to a memo sent by city attorney Carol Helton to council members the day before their Aug. 13 votes, a private investigator had posed a patron at several adult clubs on Aug. 8 and 9 and observed that several featured “females who expose their entire breasts and a large majority of their butt cheeks while wearing a G-string. This violates the Indiana public nudity statute . . . The investigator also observed nude females grinding their covered vaginal areas and/or their bare butt cheeks on a patron’s covered genitals and pressing their bare breasts against the patron’s face and mouth.”

To President John Crawford and four other council members, that evidence justified new rules that include a six-foot buffer between dancers and customers — a distance that won’t limit old-fashioned voyeurism but is sure to complicate lap dancing.

So why did Crawford, R-at large and an unsuccessful candidate for mayor in the May primary, help thwart a companion bill that would have outlawed live sex-act businesses? Because he’s convinced the city’s only swingers club isn’t the public nuisance its critics insist it is.

I can’t say for certain whether the city also went undercover at the Champagne Club (although it would be logical to assume it did), but Crawford did visit the club at 2710 Nuttman Ave. on Aug. 10 and said there is no evidence it has been a source of crime, sexually transmitted disease or other problems that would justify its forced closure.

“All details of security and club operation were handled very well,” he said. “(It’s) not a public nuisance; most people didn’t know the club was there. There’s no sign on the nondescript building. Increases in STDs are primarily in younger people than the demographics of this club’s membership . . . It’s safer than most bars where we have police calls. Safe sex is encouraged and practiced by members.”

Crawford’s vote wasn’t an endorsement of swinging but of property rights: The club has operated for years with few problems and its owners have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in a business he believes generates between $5 million and $10 million in annual tourism revenues.

“(The Champagne Club) does not cause the problems we have with the strip clubs,” Crawford said. “Now they are getting caught up in these ordinances, (but) not due to their operation. They are collateral damage.”

It was Crawford, of course, who several years ago successfully pushed to outlaw smoking in most of the city’s public buildings, even in bars whose owners have property rights, too. The difference, Crawford said, is that secondhand smoke can be harmful or even fatal, while no harm has been directly linked to the Champagne Club.

That’s a matter of opinion, of course. Some would argue such activities exact a toll on individuals, families and society in ways that are less obvious but just as real. No doubt that’s why Tom Freistroffer R-at large, Russ Jehl, R-2nd and Geoff Paddock, D-5th, voted for the bill that would have closed the Champagne Club, while Michael Barranda, R-at large, and Glynn Hines, D-6th, joined Crawford in opposition. The resulting 3-3 deadlock doomed the bill.

But aren’t there nine members on council? Yes; Jason Arp, R-4th, and Tom Didier, R-3rd, were absent with what Crawford called longstanding commitments. Paul Ensley, R-1st abstained, Crawford said, because he was genuinely torn between his commitment to individual and property rights and constituents who expressed moral opposition to “swinging.”

“(Ensley) was in an ideological bind. He couldn’t in good conscience vote yes or no,” Crawford said.

I understand Ensley’s angst. I can’t defend, nor do I understand, swinging as a lifestyle. But I’m also libertarian enough to believe that what consenting adults do behind closed doors is usually none of my business unless they are harming others. I suppose one could also argue that lap dances really don’t hurt anyone, either, but the distinction to be made here is that the strip clubs were found to be violating the law — the Champagne Club wasn’t. And even Paddock couldn’t say the club has been a source of problems.

People with legitimate and understandable moral misgivings about the outcome should at least take comfort in the fact that, with religion increasingly under attack, believers in the future should be able to expect at least as much protection from outside interference as swingers received last week.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at kleininger@news-sentinel.com or call him at 461-8355.

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