Extra chairs were brought in, but still it was standing room only as more than 130 people gathered at the Citizens for a Greater Destin community rally against the strip club on Feb. 17. The main purpose of the rally was to urge residents to pack the upcoming City Council meetings on Feb. 18 and Feb. 24.
"I was asleep four years ago, when they made the first settlement, but I'm not anymore!" said Kelly Haeusler, board member of CGD. Haeusler, whose veterinary clinic would neighbor the proposed strip club, was referring to the 2009 agreement between the City and Terry Stephenson, which gave him permission to open a fully operating strip-club with alcohol to be located on Airport Road.
Current litigation between the City and Atlanta company, Trident-Operations, is focused on whether this original agreement is applicable to their proposed strip club endeavor since Stephenson was killed outside his club in 2010. The city is set to discuss a possible settlement at a special meeting on Feb. 24.
"Telling your councilman what you want and how you feel is part of the democratic process," Haeusler told the crowd.
"You have the right to be there, you have the right to speak," agreed Dan Dufault, president of CGD.
A few in the audience questioned whether vacationers and snowbirds could address the council, and give opinion, to which Haeusler replied, "I don't see why you couldn't; you are still impacting the community."
As the rally continued, strong opinions against the strip club were voiced.
"We either fight this now, or we are going to be fighting pedophiles and all sorts of others," said Joe Parks, a 20-year Destinite. Destin Assembly of God Pastor Jason Poole agreed with the urgency of the situation.
"We need to be civil in this, but we cannot be passive," he said.
The organization wants to garner a strong public presence at the Feb. 18 council meeting, as it is their last chance to officially address the councilmen before the closed executive meeting, and possible settlement vote on Feb. 24.
CGD board member Shane Cannon explained "At the end of every council meeting anybody can stand up and speak on any issue."
With city council elections so close at hand, Dufault also questioned the reason for a seemingly rushed decision on the case.
"Here is a question to ask your councilman," Dufault stated, "Why the urgency to pass this settlement?"
Dufault believes that the current council is eager to wash their hands of the issue.
"There is an election coming up, so right now what we are dealing with is a 'lame duck' council,” he said. “Because whatever they decide on this matter, they won't have to answer to the citizens."
City Council hopefuls, Skip Overdier and Prebble Ramswell attended the rally, and made public their stance on the strip club issue.
"I am against it," said Overdier, "Destin is a family oriented town. That is how we've grown the community we have. That's why tourists want to come here and bring their families."
Ramswell agreed: “We all moved here, we all live here, we all stay here because of the family atmosphere. This is not in line with our ideals; the people are opposed to it, and so am I."
After the strong oppositions and opinions of the night, the rally ended on a hopeful note.
"We know other municipalities who have fought and won," said Dufault, winning applause from the crowd. "I don't think this [settlement] is going to go."
WANT TO GO?
Citizens for a Greater Destin urge residents to email council members and ask them to vote NO on the proposed settlement at email@example.com. A special City Council meeting to discuss the matter is set for Feb. 24 at 5 p.m. at the City Hall Annex.