'We're not going anywhere': Despite 'small victory,' Citizens group to continue strip club protests
When the City Council took no action after Monday night's executive session, opponents of the proposed strip club let out a thunderous applause and shouts of joy.
"I think it was a small victory that they didn't concede to anything," said Patti Terjak, an organizer with Citizens for a Greater Destin. "The city officials felt how determined we are and how the residents felt about this."
After meeting for about an hour with attorneys, city leaders had to decide whether or not they were going to accept or deny a proposed settlement agreement that was on the table or take no action, which meant they would continue to battle in court against the club's proposed developers.
Although there were about 150 residents in attendance, they were never given the opportunity to speak. Had a motion been made, Mayor Sam Seevers said the crowd would have been allowed to share their thoughts.
And if the comments would have mirrored those made on Feb. 18, it would have been an emotional outpouring of demands and anger, but mostly of support.
"Everybody is emotionally touched by this," Seevers said of the idea of a strip club being located not only in Destin, but directly across the street from a residential neighborhood.
Now that city leaders decided not to agree to the proposed settlement, Seevers said the next step lies in the hands of the attorneys from the The Runway, as the city has denied their proposed compromise.
"It's really up to where they want to go with this," she said. "There was a comment made that this 'is far from over,' and that may just be the case."
Doug Rainer, public information manager for the city of Destin, said the next step is for the city's legal team and the attorneys from the proposed strip club to present the findings from Monday night's meeting to the federal courts by March 3. He said the judge will then determine the next course of action.
Since no action was taken Monday night, the terms of the proposed settlement remain confidential.
The city still has a case in the state court system, which seeks a declaratory judgment and asks a judge to determine whether or not the men now associated with Trident Operations LLC have the legal right to operate under the 2010 settlement agreement with the late Terry Stephenson, who was murdered outside of his Atlanta strip club in 2010. Meanwhile, representatives from the club have a pending case that involves allegations of First Amendment violations on behalf of the city of Destin.
The move Monday night means the city may be settling in for a lengthy and costly court battle. While an estimate of how much the litigation has cost the city so far was unavailable as of press time, attorneys fees had consumed more than $100,000 in city funds at the time of the first settlement agreement in 2010.
Despite the "small victory" Monday night, Terjak told The Log that the opposition group wasn't necessarily fighting the actual opening of the club, given that they could open at any point, as much as they were fighting the 2010 settlement agreement that allows the club to serve alcohol.
"This doesn't mean that there won't be a strip club," she said. "We are thrilled that so many people came out twice in a week to show support, but I'm afraid that many of them think this is it."
Terjak said the citizen's group will continue to request documents about the case from the city, update as many people as possible through their page on Facebook, and continue to fight for what they feel is right.
"We're not going anywhere," she said.
In recent days, a group opposed to the strip club began urging sitting councilmen that if they were on the fence, they should delay a vote until the new council was seated in March. Next month’s elections will possibly bring three new faces to the council, and as a whole the newcomers appear squarely opposed to the club. Residents won’t know if that scenario played out until the executive session transcripts become public. And that won’t happen until a settlement or until the legal issue is decided in the courts, which could take months or even years.
Destin Log Reporter Matt Algarin was at Monday night's City Council meeting and offered a live play-by-play of the meeting.
To read more about the outcome of the proposed strip club settlement, click here.
To see a video of the public portion of the meeting, click here.
To read through the rest of the meeting, CLICK HERE.