City leaders are beefing up their legal team as they continue to question the validity of the application on file for the city's first strip club.
With a 6-1 vote during Monday night's City Council meeting, the council authorized City Manager Maryann Ustick to enter into an agreement with Anthony Garganese of Brown, Garganese, Weiss & D'Agresta, P.A.
City Land Use Attorney Scott Shirley told city leaders that the Orlando-based attorney was "instrumental" in helping the city through its First Amendment lawsuit with the late Terry Stephenson and the Oasis of Destin in 2008 and 2009. He also assisted the city in its property rights lawsuit with the Crystal Dunes Owners Association.
"He and his firm have a very good reputation in that particular area," Shirley said of Garganese's experience with adult entertainment regulations. "The best thing to do is to bring in somebody with extensive experience, at least on a consultation basis."
Developers of the proposed club, The Runway, initially submitted their application in January for a development order to open the city's first strip club at 908 Airport Road.
In a series of letters between the city's attorney and Dana Matthews, a local attorney representing the club, questions have surfaced about whether or not Trident-Operations LLC, the applicant, had the proper authority under the city's 2010 settlement agreement to open the club.
During past council meetings, Shirley has assured city leaders and concerned residents that they are looking into a variety of questions surrounding the application.
On Monday, they took it one step further with Councilman Jim Bagby making the motion to bring Garganese and his firm on board.
"If we are going to fight, I don't want a good guy or a very good guy, I want the best guy in this area fighting on this issue," he said. "In my opinion, and in the opinion of several attorneys I've talked to, this is that guy."
But, the proposed hiring of Garganese and his firm didn't sit well with everyone. Councilman Tuffy Dixon, who was the night's lone no vote, told his colleagues that the city may want to go in a different direction, since Garganese was already part of the settlement agreement that has bound the city’s hands in the matter.
"I do think they've already had one bite of the apple," he said. "I would really like a fresh set of eyes to look at this."
"How can they take a subjective look if they were part of that agreement?" Dixon added. "I cannot for the life of me see that we are going to hire the same firm that basically negotiated this settlement."
Garganese will charge the city $210 per hour for his services, according to the "engagement" letter that was provided to city leaders.
Per the letter, "the scope of the representation is that we will continue to serve as special counsel on adult entertainment related matters including assisting the client with legal advice related to the possessing of applications and related issues that may arise from time to time."
As of Tuesday, The Runway's development application was still on hold and not being reviewed by city staff.