Tuesday, March 11, 2014
BY ERIN RHODA Staff Writer
A majority of voters at Wednesday night's special town meeting at the junior high school voted to usher in an adult-entertainment ordinance that prohibits nudity in a commercial establishment.
The decision effectively stalls Ernest and Shannon George's plans to open a strip club at 197 White School House Road. Ernest George said he would continue to fight for his business, even in court.
"My whole life savings, my kids' savings, everyone's savings, now you tell me I can't do it," he said. "I wouldn't even be trying to do this if this ordinance was in effect a year ago."
Nearly 100 residents attended the meeting, and many presented a range of opinions on the proposed strip club, for which George said he would hire local employees. He and his family walked out halfway through the meeting and did not vote.
Resident Eleanor Dean said George should have gotten feedback from town residents before spending money on his property and applying for the permit. "If he doesn't then that's his business technique, and he should pay the price," she said.
David Lagueux said he came to Madison to open his business, Old Point Bakery, specifically "because it was a good-natured ... decent town, and I don't want that to change."
Dennis Johnston owns property next to the proposed strip club and urged the community to vote in favor of the ordinance. "I expect you to do this, to make an ordinance, to protect us, to protect our children," he said.
Christy Asselin said that switching the rules was unfair. "He was told 'yes,' to start it at the beginning, correct? Now all of a sudden we're making an ordinance so he can't? I don't think that's fair."
Peter Sirois said George was being "explicitly singled out."
"This man's rights are being violated, and I hope to hell he will sue the pants off this town if they pass this ordinance," he said.
"I'm just glad the gentleman's bringing jobs to the town, and if a girl wants to strip to make money, that's her prerogative," Jessica Libby said.
Some questioned whether changing the ordinance would hold up in court. Attorney Louis Shiro, of Shiro & Shiro in Waterville, has said the new ordinance violates George's constitutional rights because nudity is a form of expression, deserving First Amendment protection.
However, the town's attorney, Lee Bragg, of Bernstein Shur in Augusta, disagreed. "It is an issue that is in some state of flux, but the rules on the books say that nudity can be regulated, and this ordinance does exactly that."
When a resident asked how much it might cost to fight a legal battle, Bragg said, "It could be $10,000. It could be $100,000. I say that because an issue of this nature could go to the Supreme Court of the United States, conceivably. We just don't know what kind of defense is going to be required."