City passes new massage ordinance

More than a year in the making, city says teeth there to fight illicit parlors

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JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – About 18 months ago, Johns Creek residents came to City Hall to ask the city to do something about the proliferation of illicit massage parlors on Medlock Bridge Parkway. At the July 14 council meeting, the City Council passed a new and tougher ordinance designed to attack establishment owners of these illicit sex shops.

The city hired an attorney expert in the field, Scott Berghold, who was hired specifically to craft an ordinance that went to the root of these illicit shops. Using undercover officers to nab the women for prostitution did little to stop the businesses from reopening, often as soon as the next day.

Berghold said this new ordinance will target the establishments themselves. The approach will be to require the establishment to have licensed therapists, for instance. That is good as far as it goes, but there are more problems.

“For instance, the state Legislature allows nine exemptions. The operators use these exemptions as loopholes,” Berghold said.

The illicit establishments purport to be offering those exempted services. What the new ordinance does is require those businesses to register with the city. The operators will be responsible for licensing all of their workers with photo identification.

If code enforcement cannot match up the masseuse with her photo, that’s a violation without resorting to undercover. They can also require the management to produce the license. If they can’t, they can be shut down.

If they are masquerading as an establishment in the license-exempted therapies, then the responsibility for the conduct of the masseuse makes the establishment liable because they are licensed by the city, and can be shut down that way.

These are administrative revocations rather than criminal, which makes it harder for the owners to get back in operation. The establishment is closed, rather than the prostitute arrested. The women offering the services are often pawns in the sex trade industry who are forced into the work and have no way to leave.

“We have to do something to deal with the illegitimate businesses operating in the city. When you see more massage parlors on Medlock Bridge Parkway than you do restaurants and gas stations combined, you know you have a problem,” Councilwoman Kelly Stewart said.

Councilman Lenny Zaprowski wanted to know how this affected the legitimate massage providers in the city.

Mayor Mike Bodker said the city is ready to listen to valid complaints and suggestions from the massage community. He said the purpose of the ordinance is to make things uncomfortable for the illegitimate trade.

“I’m glad that this will start ridding us of these businesses. My only concern was that we not harm the legitimate people out there,” said Zaprowski. “I think we have the commitment to get it right and tweak the ordinance if it becomes necessary.”

Bodker said it was a great step forward in meeting the requests from residents to do something.

“I feel great about getting the ordinance passed. It was more than a year in the making. It may seem rushed to others because it was unveiled and passed so quickly,” Bodker said.

The mayor said it was done that way for strategic purposes. The council did not want to warn “the enemy” of the tactics that will now be used on them.

“This really has been a war. The war has been to help legitimize those businesses operating legally while eradicating those businesses operating illegally. We needed better tools to do that. With this new ordinance, we are well down that path,” Bodker said.

The mayor said he was confident the city will be able to root out these illegal operations and rid the city of them permanently.

“It won’t be overnight, but with this new ordinance, it will happen,” he said.

JC 07-17-14