Originally created 04/02/03

Commission refines adult-entertainment law



After months without a valid adult entertainment ordinance, the Augusta Commission voted Tuesday to close a gaping loophole that - since January - has left strip clubs and adult bookstores unregulated by local law enforcement.

"Obviously, we need an ordinance," Commissioner Willie Mays said at Tuesday's commission meeting. "We need to regulate the businesses that are there."

The commission went through the proper procedure to vote on and implement the ordinance, unlike last summer, when it voted on an ordinance without advertising it to the public.

For more than a month, Mr. Mays and other commissioners have delayed any action on a new adult entertainment law by debating the details of that ordinance. That debate came to a close late Tuesday after the commission spent nearly two hours in a closed legal session, during which the adult entertainment laws were discussed.

U.S. District Court Chief Judge Dudley H. Bowen Jr. ruled in January that Augusta's adult entertainment laws - revised last June - were invalid because proper public notice was not provided before their revision. The ruling allowed Augusta Video X-Mart, an adult bookstore on Gordon Highway, to open under a temporary injunction.

Since that federal court ruling, city attorneys have been working to push through an updated ordinance that meets the burden of the judge's order - saying that until they do, X-Mart and any other adult entertainment establishment will be able to open up shop without being subject to much-needed city oversight.

Shortly after that ruling, a Damascus Road nightclub owner began featuring nude dancers without securing an adult entertainment license. Club owner James Lewis and his attorney, Randolph Frails, have argued that the federal court ruling left the city with an unenforceable ordinance.

City attorneys have argued that, although the city's regulating ordinance over adult entertainment is unenforceable, its zoning laws have not been struck down and Mr. Lewis is in violation of those laws.

Earlier Tuesday, Chief Magistrate Court Judge William D. Jennings III denied the nightclub owner's motion contesting the city ordinance's constitutionality. A hearing on the matter of his ordinance violation will be rescheduled at a later date, court officials said.

Reach Heidi Coryell Williams at (706) 823-3215 or heidi.williams@augustachronicle.com.