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Clay board backs off changing adult entertainment ban

BY DAN HILDEBRAN

Monitor Editor

Clay County Commissioners backed away from an ordinance which would have allowed adult entertainment businesses in certain parts of the county after a dozen members of the public spoke against the proposal.

County Attorney Mark Scruby told the board that the county’s current ban on adult entertainment businesses is likely an unconstitutional prohibition against free speech and that without changes to the law, a court would likely overturn it, leaving the county with no regulation at all  over such enterprises.

He recommended the county replace the current ordinance with one that uses zoning rules to dictate where such businesses could operate within the county. At an earlier meeting of the county’s economic development committee, he said zoning regulations could not only restrict where such businesses could operate, but also the times they could open for business and other details about their operations, such as their appearance from the street.

Scruby added that based on the success that the City of Alachua had with such an approach, he recommended commissioners move toward retaining the Indiana-based lawyer and consultant that helped Alachua draft its ordinance.

However, the dozen speakers who addressed the board about the law, mostly pastors from Clay County churches, suggested the county get a different legal opinion than the one Scruby offered.

Keystone Heights resident Tom Croft, who pastors MorningStar Family Church in Middleburg, questioned Scruby’s assessment that the county’s current ordinance would likely lose a court battle.

“Maybe we need to get some constitutional attorneys involved,” he said. “I know that there are a lot of them that practice before the Supreme Court that might have a different opinion.”

Croft’s suggestion, which other speakers repeated during public comments, resonated with several commissioners.

“I love the idea of a constitutional attorney,” said Commissioner Diane Hutchings.

Scruby said he welcomed the additional scrutiny on his assessment of the ordinance.

“I think getting a second opinion is good,” he told commissioners.  “I think getting a third opinion, fourth opinion, however many opinions you need on this. I have the highest confidence of my views on this.”

The commission directed Scruby to collect more opinions about the county’s current ordinance and the best course of action commissioners could take to restrict, as much as possible, the operations of adult entertainment establishments.

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