St. Helena council exempts existing strip clubs from new ordinance

The St. Helena Parish Police Jury voted Tuesday to exempt existing sexually oriented businesses from new ordinances regulating such establishments in the parish.

The jury voted 4-2 in favor, with jurors Jule Charles Wascom and Doug Watson voting no.

The Police Jury enacted ordinances June 11 to control and regulate sexually oriented businesses in St. Helena and passed a resolution June 25 exempting existing businesses from the ordinances.

Police Jury attorney Clifton Speed told the jurors that the resolution had no actual legal power, so jurors had to formally introduce an ordinance at its Sept. 24 meeting before voting on it Tuesday night.

The strip club furor in St. Helena Parish came after residents complained about the two clubs — the Oak Ridge Lounge in Pine Grove and The Mansion near Montpelier — and have lobbied to have them shut down.

The June 11 action made two changes to the parish’s code of ordinances.

The first change amends the chapter that regulates alcohol licenses for local businesses. The change would prohibit nudity and “certain physical contact” between patrons and employees of licensed alcohol-serving businesses.

The second change created a new chapter to license and regulate sexually oriented businesses and employees. All sexually oriented businesses already operating in the parish were given a 60-day temporary license to apply for a formal license.

The Police Jury decided Tuesday to exempt existing businesses from the second change.

Tyrone Butler and Bobby Vaughn, who own The Mansion and Oak Ridge Lounge, respectively, have indicated in the past that they planned to challenge the new ordinances in court.

Kathleen Benfield, director of the American Family Association of New Orleans, said Tuesday that every legal expert she has spoken to about the original ordinances passed said the Police Jury should have no concern about being sued.

“The fear of a lawsuit, I don’t think, is something that you really need to be afraid of,” Benfield said. “I don’t think you’re going to get sued, and if you did, I think you would prevail.”

Police Jury President Major Coleman defended the change adopted Tuesday, saying the parish had been sued successfully in the past for writing regulatory laws that didn’t exempt current businesses.

“I’m not going to go down the same road and expect a different result,” Coleman said.

The Rev. Rusty Durand, pastor at Montpelier Baptist Church, asked police jurors to make their decisions absent of fears of lawsuits and instead on doing the right thing.

Local pastors have lead the charge in shutting down the strip clubs.

“Every decision that’s made of fear is opposite of faith and will fail,” Durand said. “I’m not making any of my decisions based on fear.”