GRAND ISLAND, Neb. — A Lincoln businessman and his New York attorney stomped out of a Hall County Board meeting Tuesday morning, just seconds after the board passed new zoning regulations overseeing adult-oriented businesses.
Businessman Shane Harrington, who wore a camera on his ballcap that was recording throughout, testified before the board during a Tuesday morning public hearing on why he felt the zoning regulations — and stipulations outlined in a new county ordinance prohibiting public nudity — were unfair to the strip club he has been trying to open in Hall County since late last year.
“I know what I’m doing — it may not be what you guys agree with, or what’s politically correct, or what’s religiously correct, or whatever it may be,” Harrington said. “But these are adults coming to my establishment making choices on what they want to do.”
Harrington said the club he opened in Elm Creek in Buffalo County seven months ago is going very well, but he specifically sought out Hall County for a club because he’s already doing a lot of business here.
“Hall County, as a whole, is my No. 1 bachelor party location, meaning over the last 10 years, I’ve been hired for more bachelor parties in your county than any other county in Nebraska,” Harrington said. “But yet you’re telling me that there’s no need for this business? If they are hiring my nude dancers for bachelor parties and paying outrageous prices to have us drive in and provide these shows, there is a need for it.”
He said he first called Grand Island Police Chief Steve Lamken about bringing in a “gentleman’s club” and was told by the chief that he wasn’t welcome here — that Lamken would fight him every step of the way. Harrington said he called Grand Island City Attorney Bob Sivick and got the same response — so instead he decided to go outside city limits in Hall County.
Harrington said he tried calling Hall County Sheriff Jerry Watson, who wasn’t in, so he talked with Chief Deputy Chris Rea, who said he would explain and work with Harrington on county regulations and would even frequent the club as a patron after it opened.
Rea was not at the meeting, but told The Independent after the meeting that while he did have numerous conversations with Harrington and agreed to work with him on county regulations, he doesn’t frequent such clubs. Rea and local law officers have, and do, and will continue to stop in at all entertainment establishments as part of their routine enforcement duties, he said, and Rea said he did make clear to Harrington that any such club would be regulated.
Harrington said he finds it funny that some people object to a strip club based on other crime it may bring. He said Hall County used to have a strip club in Alda called the Edge. Hall County crime statistics were actually higher the 10 years preceding the Edge’s operation and since it closed, crime stats really haven’t changed at all.
“There’s crime no matter what,” Harrington said stating that Grand Island crime stats recently ranked it the third-most dangerous city in Nebraska. “If anything, (if) you give people an avenue to do stuff legally, there’s going to be less crime.”
County Board Chairman Scott Arnold, who is a city police officer, said the reduction in crime rates over the years has been more about the hiring of more local law enforcement officers than anything else. The Grand Island Police Department has added 10 officers in recent years.
When Supervisor Doug Lanfear asked what objections there were to the new regulations, Harrington said it was all problematic.
Of specific concern were stipulations to close at midnight and maintain a six-foot buffer between club employees and patrons.
Harrington said other businesses that don’t serve alcohol, such as grocery stores, are allowed to be open 24 hours, so he didn’t think it was fair for the county to set more restrictive hours on his juice bar. Even bars that serve alcohol are allowed to stay open until 1 a.m., Harrington said.
The six-foot buffer would prevent patrons from being a gentleman and handing money to the dancers, Harrington said. Instead, they would have to wad up money and throw it — hoping to not miss the dancer or hit her in the eye.
He also objected to being restricted to agriculturally zoned property at the former Cornhusker Army Ammunition Plant.
With a Grand Island population of 58,000 and another 28,000 in Hastings, Harrington estimated “shooting low” that he would have 3,000 to 5,000 customers a month.
“You put me out in some ag land with no street lights, possibly no paved road … let’s put thousands of people on some crappy road and hope nobody gets in a wreck,” he said. “Businesses don’t belong in the agriculture area.”
Harrington said he’s opening a legal business and wants to be “in the same area as most any other legal businesses,” but not by a church or a school.
“No kid would go by my club and have any clue what it is,” he said. “We don’t use like naked lady signs.”
Harrington said the regulations were unconstitutional and he simply wouldn’t sit idly by and let them go unchallenged.
Harrington's New York attorney, Evan Spencer, then testified and presented exhibits, including more than 70 legal cases, of what he called the “other side of the story” that the county hasn’t received about regulating adult-oriented businesses. Spencer said the bulk of the county’s new restrictions, such as the closure hours and the six-foot buffer, have been found to be unconstitutional in other states. The county’s passage of the new rules, he said, would merely cost taxpayer money to litigate.
But when the board closed the public hearing and promptly passed the zoning changes unanimously 7-0, both Spencer and Harrington grew irate.
“Well I’m glad you looked at the evidence at least,” Spencer said as he rose from the back row of the board room. “I’m glad you all looked at the 1,000 pages of evidence in opposition.”
“We’ll see you in court for about 10 years,” Harrington stated as he stood up next to Spencer. “Thank you for wasting our time.”
“What a joke,” Spencer continued. “This is the United States of America.”
“You’re out of line, you’re out of line,” Arnold said striking his gavel.
“I don’t care,” Harrington replied walking into the center of the board room. “I don’t care.”
“You’re out of order,” Arnold said.
“I don’t care,” said Harrington as he began walking backward to the board room doors. “I don’t care.”
“This is a public meeting,” said Arnold.
“I don’t care, I don’t care. I don’t care. You guys are idiots,” Harrington said. “You should be arrested for that.”
Spencer said millions may be spent on litigation.
“This is the worst place in America,” Spencer said as he threw open the doors and stormed out and Harrington followed.
“I think we need a recess,” Arnold said.
“I’m sorry an attorney would come in and do that with you folks,” Valentino apologized on behalf of the legal profession.
Valentino said Spencer’s testimony should be accepted as a member of the public only because he lacks a license to practice in Nebraska. Spencer’s only been given special rights in U.S. District Court representing Harrington in lawsuits filed against Seward County and Hall County where he’s challenging regulations on adult-oriented businesses. Valentino said Spencer should have sought out special legal permission to address the County Board, as it is not a federal court. Valentino said Spencer should also have shared his exhibits with Valentino prior to the hearing, which is customary attorney protocol.
When the board reconvened, it unanimously approved the new ordinance prohibiting public nudity and lewd and lascivious behavior. Harrington had testified that the nudity ordinance was aimed at him and that passing regulations in response to one individual was not legal and would be stricken down.
Valentino said the public nudity ordinance would address everything from strip clubs to “woodsy parties” where groups of drunkards were skinny dipping — it was not targeted at any one individual, but rather was the product of a need to fill a “lapse in regulatory authority.”
“You don’t want people running around the county buck naked,” Valentino told the board.
Such an ordinance for Hall County is new. About four to five other counties are considering similar regulations now, Valentino said.
Eunice Hawk of Burwell praised the board for creating the regulations. She said she ran a hair salon near the Interstate in Grand Island for 10 years and saw all kinds of inappropriate behavior, including human trafficking, sex crimes and prostitution. She felt a strip club could only lead to problems in the future.
Arnold said he didn’t feel Hall County was setting a precedent for more stringent local zoning laws or prohibitions on public nudity.
“We’re just doing our job,” he said.