City leaders cite adult entertainment code violations
Shady’s Hometown Tavern and Event Center cannot serve liquor for a 10-day period starting next week.
Albany City Council members suspended the establishment’s liquor license during a Dec. 21, 2022, hearing because of violations related to a November 2022 male dance revue.
City leaders conducted a special meeting Dec. 28, 2022, to clarify the days and terms of the license suspension, which was recommended by city attorney Susan Dege.
Shady’s will not be able serve alcohol from Jan. 10 to Jan. 20 and has to pay a civil fine of $1,000 and reimburse the city for $964 in incurred attorney’s fees.
“The hearing was held last Wednesday,” Mayor Tom Kasner told a large audience attending the meeting. “I can see there is support here (for Shady’s), and I can understand that.”
Kasner said the special meeting was not a public hearing, adding audience comment was not allowed.
“We are here to consider a resolution clarifying the days and terms of the suspension that we initially did last Wednesday,” Kasner said.
Shady’s owners Kris Schiffler, Lee Mergen and Ryan Spanier attended the Dec. 21 liquor license violation hearing, which became contentious and heated at times.
Dege started the council hearing explaining the two sections of city code that had been violated.
She said Schiffler had been advised not to hold a male dance revue because any adult entertainment or dancing that implies a sexual act is not allowed in a liquor-licensed establishment within the city.
“Mr. Schiffler’s position is the dancers were not totally nude, and they would not be prohibited by the city code,” Dege said, adding the code does not require the dancers to be nude if they depict acts of a sexualized nature.
She recommended the city council find that the dance revue was prohibited by code.
Dege asked police chief Ozzie Carbajal to confirm a sexual assault report arising from the event at Shady’s which took place the first weekend in November 2022. That report caused concern and prompted legal action by the city, she added.
“There is an open investigation to something that occurred,” Carbajal said. “That’s all I can say about that case because it is currently still open and being investigated.”
Carbajal confirmed an Albany police officer visited Shady’s twice the evening of the event, which was advertised online starting in October 2022.
Schiffler addressed the council first during the Dec. 21 liquor license hearing.
He said 10 to 12 days before the event, he was notified by the city that the event would violate code.
Schiffler said his attorney, Peter Donohue, sent a letter stating a different legal interpretation.
Dege and clerk and administrator Tom Schneider said city officials never received a letter from Donohue.
Schiffler said Shady’s management was sorry for what happened the night of the male dance revue, but it was difficult to continue the violation hearing without the council first seeing his attorney’s letter.
“I thought our attorney’s argument was good enough to calm it down,” he said. “I guess now I’m a little blinded by it. It’s easier to have the argument if you guys would have the letter.”
Schiffler and owner Lee Mergen suggested the council table the liquor license matter to a later meeting because of that fact and because their attorney was not able to attend the Dec. 21 meeting as the attorney was in New York City.
Councilor Adam Rushmeyer did not agree with delaying the decision.
“I don’t think I want to table it,” he said. “I think we need to act on it. I don’t think that holds enough water for me to say we should table it.”
He deferred to Dege for additional legal guidance.
“Due process rights are limited,” Dege said. “If we had received a request to delay because his attorney was not able to attend, we probably could have granted it. But this is the first that we’ve heard of it.”
Schiffler read a copy of the Oct. 21 letter from Donohue from his cell phone.
“We have reviewed the city’s adult establishment ordinance and find that it does not prohibit the Chippendale performance,” Donohue stated in his letter. “The attempt to classify this event as an adult cabaret takes it completely out of context.”
Donohue contended the performers would remain clothed during the performance and would not seek to “evoke, arouse, or excite sexual or erotic feelings or desire.”
Donohue further contended the city’s ordinance originates under a body of law that balances freedom of expression with a city’s right to protect the health, safety and welfare of its citizens.
The performance was something not intended to be prohibited under that body of law, Donohue concluded, further stating Schiffler would not cancel the event.
Mergen told the council the city’s ordinance should be worded differently.
“There’s no way that should hold water the way that it’s worded,” Mergen said, referencing the sexual conduct prohibition section of city code. “On any single Friday or Saturday night, you see that on dance floors throughout the state.”
Schiffler apologized and asked the council to consider imposing a heavier fine.
“If you want to penalize us, we would prefer it would be more moneywise, instead of taking hours away from our employees,” he said.
Kasner said Shady’s received legal advice from the city prior to the event not to conduct the male dance revue.
“Ultimately, we (the city council), are going to be the bad guys here,” Kasner said. “You aren’t. That’s a position none of us really want to be in.”
Councilor John Harlander addressed the missing letter.
“I think your attorney failed you by not reaching out and saying, ‘Hey, did you get my letter?’” Harlander said.
During the hearing, Rushmeyer made a motion, seconded by councilor Alan Amdahl, and approved by council, to include Dec. 31, 2022, as a date Shady’s could not serve liquor.
Mergen and Spanier returned to the city council chambers after the hearing closed.
Mergen sharply questioned that Dec. 31 date.
“What’s the logic?,” he said. “I think this is an extraordinarily harsh penalty. We don’t get the chance to rebut any of the stuff that was voted on. If you don’t think this is harsh, it’s brutal.”
Kasner stated the initial Dec. 31 date was included as a deterrent.
“I think the ordinance is pretty clear, and the explanation that was given was pretty clear,” Kasner said.
Rushmeyer restated his position.
“You were advised by several city (legal) representatives not to do this and you went ahead with it,” Rushmeyer said. “I feel we have no choice but to follow the ordinance and our attorney’s recommendation.”
Schiffler came back into council chambers after the meeting was adjourned with additional information.
“We have a problem,” Schiffler told city leaders. “We have a wedding booked on Dec. 31. I’m all about taking the penalty. But punish me, punish my employees, but don’t punish this bride.”
Kasner said he and Schneider would speak with Dege about scheduling a special meeting to consider Schiffler’s request because the hearing could not be reopened.
During the Dec. 28 special meeting, Dege said after the previous council meeting was closed the city learned Shady’s had banquets scheduled two other days.
“This has been brought back to consider a different set of license suspension dates so no other Albany citizens are inconvenienced by Shady’s suspensions,” Dege said.
During discussion, Rushmeyer said he did not agree with allowing date carve-outs.
“I don’t think we should do that for the convenience of the violator,” Rushmeyer said. “I just want that on the record for future violations.”
However, Rushmeyer did agree to move one of the suspension days from Jan. 6 to Jan. 14 because of a previously scheduled Albany Sportsmen’s Club raffle.
After additional discussion, Harlander made a motion to scrap an originally proposed set of dates that would have included the first week in January.
He motioned for consecutive dates from Jan. 10 through Jan. 20, with Rushmeyer seconding. The motion passed 4-0. Amdahl was not in attendance.