In our previous post from Thursday, January 22, 2015, entitled Town Looks Gift Horse In The Mouth, we erroneously sided with Town Clerk Judith Beville regarding her objecting to her office having discretion to approve or deny the issuance of licenses to Massage Parlor applicants. She asserted that there is a difference in this bill compared to the Town’s existing 1977 Cabaret Law. She stated that Cabaret license applicants were seeking an additional license for an existing business and the Massage Parlors were new businesses starting new. Ms Beville was (and remains) wrong with her stance. We had agreed with her assertion on its face value and have since found that her assumption is incorrect.
We mentioned in our article that the proposed Massage Parlor bill, crafted by Edgemont and other residents and submitted through the Edgemont Community Council to the Town Board, had taken portions from several other communities’ Massage Parlor Laws already addressing the Massage Parlor issue. It also addressed the Town Clerks Office’s approval or denial of an applicant’s license request. The portion of the law regarding the Town Clerks Office’s involvement in the licensing process is copied verbatim from the Town’s existing 1977 Cabaret Law. Regardless of what Ms Belville believes she will do or not, her actions are limited.
The history of the Cabaret Law was to give the Police Department a better ability to go after organized Crime which the Cabaret Law helped them do. All cabaret owners seeking a license had to fill out an application. The Police Chief, the Building Inspector and the Fire Marshall subsequently reviewed those applications. If they approved the application, the town clerk simply issues the license and the establishment would then have to obtain a special permit from the town board and proceed to a public hearing.
There have been allegations that brothels in Greenburgh are fronting as massage parlors. In fact, one resident even said if you see the word “spa” in the name, it’s probably a front for prostitution! Another allegation is that underage girls or sex slaves are being forced to work in them. Our police department’s investigatory work appears to substantiate this information with major raids conducted in 2013 and in 2010. But the police chief says that doing prostitution stings is very expensive and consumes resources of other law enforcement agencies, and even when the Town gets the help, the businesses reopen again shortly after, as if nothing had changed.
Some of the information required for a license is the disclosure of who actually owns the Massage Parlor/Company, a background check must be performed to ensure the applicant has not been convicted of a crime or have a criminal record. From the Building Department and Fire Marshall’s side of the application, the location must conform to all building code requirements and to all Fire Code requirements. Also objecting to the proposed bill was Town Attorney and Environmental Expert Tim Lewis. He deleted the portion where the Town Clerks Office issues the license and would have the Town Board issuing the license. So if there was a denial from one of the approvers, the Town Board will not issue the permit. The applicant would then be required to appeal to the Town Board. Appealing to the denying agency makes no sense as was pointed out by Town Zoning and Detail Expert Ella Preiser. Mr Lewis also favored a 120-day moratorium on Massage Parlors. If we don’t have any law about Massage Parlors, creating a moratorium to stop (or slow) them is not legal.
We are convinced that the proposed bill should be adopted once it receives minor changes, such as the Town Clerk shall issue the license pending approval or denial of the three actual approvers from the Town: the Police Chief, the Building Inspector and the Fire Marshall. If any of these three wish to deny the application, the Town Clerk shall simply not issue the license and state as much to the applicant. No discretion for or against the application shall be exercised by the Town Clerk’s Office. At the point of denial by any or all of the actual authorities having jurisdiction, an automatic appeal is mandated to the Town Board. Consequently, all discretion and responsibility, whether real or assumed, is removed from the Town Clerk and falls exactly where it belongs. This bill should be adopted unchanged. Only then will we begin see A Better Greenburgh.