The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, August 14, 2019 1:00 am

Proposed swingers club ban defeated

Council passes licensing,'6-foot rule' for strip clubs


Fort Wayne City Council split down the middle Tuesday night on two proposed ordinances regulating sexually oriented businesses.

A proposal to ban so-called swingers clubs that allow patrons to view and engage in live sex acts after paying membership and entry fees failed when it could not muster five votes.  

But the council passed a second measure that requires strip clubs to be licensed and imposes a “6-foot rule” between performers onstage and audience members.

The vote on the strip clubs was 5-1 with Councilman Paul Ensley, R-1st, abstaining. Michael Barranda, council President John Crawford and Thomas Freistoffer, all R-at large, voted in favor, as did Russ Jehl, R-2nd, and Geoff Paddock, D-5th. Glynn Hines, D-6th, voted against.

The swingers club measure tied 3-3, with Ensley abstaining. It was supported by Freistroffer, Jehl and Paddock and opposed by Barranda, Crawford and Hines.

Tom Didier, R-3rd, and Jason Arp, R-4th, were absent. A motion to postpone the vote on the swingers club ordinance for two weeks to allow Didier to vote failed. 

The four-hour meeting – in front of a standing-room-only crowd of residents on both sides of both measures – made for some strange moments.

Crawford, a physician, said he recently toured the Champagne Club, a local swingers club. He found the place to be clean, secure, well-appointed and well-managed.

He also said he didn't buy the argument advanced by city attorneys that the ordinance was needed to protect public health because of the possibility of spreading sexually transmitted diseases. He said STDs are more common among a younger demographic than the club's average patrons, who are in their 40s.

Crawford also said he was unconvinced the swingers club leads to crime. Only a couple of police calls had been registered for incidents there that had nothing to do with the club's sexual content, he said. One call was for a lost purse and the other a vehicle break-in.

He said the private nature of the club made regulating it different from the strip clubs, which are public establishments.

Also on view – an unusual alliance between Paddock, a middle-of-the-road Democrat, and Jehl, a conservative Republican.

Both favored the ban on businesses featuring live sex acts and licensing strip clubs.

City attorneys argued the ordinance banning businesses from featuring live sex acts was not overly broad. They said it distinguished the businesses from hotels or short-term rentals because club patrons pay for lodging, not for entrance to a place where they could have sex. 

The attorneys also said the 6-foot rule made sense because it allows law enforcement to clearly see if the law is being violated by looking around the venue.

Jim Buchholz, a Fort Wayne attorney representing strip clubs, told council the rule would cost his clients tens of thousands of dollars to reconfigure their establishments to comply.

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