Legislation unanimously recommended last month by the Edgemont Community Council to put an end to brothels in Edgemont fronting as massage parlors continues to be opposed by Town Attorney Tim Lewis and Town Clerk Judith Beville, and their collective efforts, along with a lack of leadership from the Town, now makes enactment of the proposal doubtful.
At a “public discussion” Wednesday night of the ECC’s 11-page proposal, which was drafted by ECC president Bob Bernstein, Mr. Lewis said he opposed the measure on “legal grounds” but declined to say publicly what they were, saying he only shares his legal opinions in private with the town board.
Even though other towns and villages in New York have adopted measures similar to what the ECC has recommended, Mr. Lewis has previously said he does not believe towns in New York have the legal authority to prevent brothels from fronting as massage parlors and for that reason he refused last fall to draft a measure that would have given Greenburgh police the tools Police Chief Chris McNerney told the ECC he needed last October when he said Edgemont had become the “illicit massage parlor capital of Westchester County.”
Mr. Bernstein stepped in to draft the proposal — and get the ECC’s backing — after Mr. Lewis did not act.
Also opposed to the ECC proposal is Ms. Beville, who says she objects to the requirement that massage establishments be required to obtain licenses from the town clerk. Once the licenses are obtained, massage establishments would then have to apply for a special permit, which requires approval by the Town Board.
Ms. Beville said she does not have the “expertise” to decide whether massage establishments should be licensed. However, under the proposed law, the town clerk does not need “expertise.” The clerk would be responsible for giving massage establishments an application to complete, the application would then be referred for report and recommendation to the police chief, the building inspector, and the fire marshall, and if any of those individuals, who do have the expertise, recommended against issuing the license, the town clerk would be required to deny the license.
If the police chief, building inspector and fire marshall each recommended that the license be issued, the town clerk would still have the discretion to deny the license, but is not required to do so.
Even though Ms. Beville has been told repeatedly what the proposal actually requires, she insisted at Wednesday’s meeting that the town clerk should not have any role at all in issuing the licenses.
Ms. Beville also insisted that her opposition to the proposal does not mean she opposes measures to improve the “quality of life” in town. Ms. Beville, who has no vote on the town board, effectively blocked Town Supervisor Paul Feiner from introducing the measure at a board meeting last month by filibustering — continuing to speak loudly so no business could be done — until town board members grew impatient and moved on to another subject.
Ms. Beville enlisted her sister and another member of the community to speak on her behalf Wednesday night in opposing the legislation. She has not reached out to Edgemont or its president.
The requirement that the town clerk be responsible for issuing licenses was drawn word for word from the Town’s Cabaret Law, which was adopted in 1977 in response to concerns from the police that the town’s nightclubs were owned and operated by members of organized crime.
In response to that concern, and the desire on the part of Greenburgh police for better law enforcement tools to deal with the problem of organized crime being involved in these businesses, all owners of existing and new nightclubs were required to complete an application from the town clerk, which was then to be forwarded by the town clerk for recommendations from the police chief, the building inspector and the fire marshall and, as with the current proposal, if any of these officials recommended against the issuance of a license, the town clerk would be required to deny it.
Ms. Beville said Wednesday night that even though the license requirement in the cabaret law was word for word the same as it was for the proposed massage law, she insisted that the Town’s cabaret law didn’t involve existing businesses — which it did — and that it dealt only with the “quality of entertainment” that new cabaret businesses were offering — which it did not.
Ms. Beville insisted Wednesday, as she has before, that she has the “expertise” to review the “quality of entertainment” being offered when asked to issue a cabaret license, but does not have the “expertise” to follow recommendations issued by the police chief, the building inspector or the fire marshall.
The purpose of the Town’s cabaret law is reflected in, among other things, the Town’s definition in that section of the town code of “connection with criminal elements.”
Yet not a single member of the Town Board, including Mr. Feiner, corrected Ms. Beville’s misreading of the Town’s cabaret law or the limited role the Town Clerk would play in the massage law, if it were adopted. Ms. Beville is politically aligned with Mr. Feiner and runs for re-election with his financial support.
The only positive news that came out of Wednesday night’s “public discussion” was the report that the Town’s Planning Board had placed the massage proposal on its agenda for discussion on March 18 which was sooner than expected.
However, because Mr. Lewis is opposed to the measure, no one from the town attorney’s office has notified the Planning Board that the only portion of the proposed law that it is legally required to comment on concerns the amendment to the zoning code to require massage establishments, once they are licensed, to obtain special permits to operate from the town board. That is only a small portion of the 11-page proposal.
Normally, the town attorney would prepare separate legislation just amending the Town’s zoning code so that the Planning Board would know — without having to guess — the only portion of the law it was being asked to review and comment upon. Without that additional legislation, the Planning Board would assume that it is being asked to review and issue recommendations with respect to the entire 11-page proposal.
Even if Mr. Lewis didn’t want to draft the additional legislation, the Town Board could still have annotated the ECC proposal to highlight the only portion that the Planning Board is required to review. But that didn’t happen either.
In fact, as was evident from Wednesday’s “discussion,” the Town Board has done nothing to the proposed legislation since it was first introduced at a special meeting of the Town Board several weeks ago. Even corrections made that day to the proposal from its draftsman, ECC president Bob Bernstein, were not made.
The Town Board agreed to introduced the proposal as originally drafted by Mr. Bernstein after Mr. Lewis had made a number of substantive changes to the proposal which Mr. Bernstein said made it illegal and unenforceable. Mr. Feiner, who agreed to introduce the measure as Mr. Bernstein had originally drafted it, had asked Mr. Lewis to give Mr. Bernstein a copy of the proposal in the form it was in before Mr. Lewis made his changes, but Mr. Lewis did not do so.
Consequently, in order for Mr. Bernstein to introduce the measure as he had written it, he was required to figure out for himself every place where Mr. Lewis had made a substantive change; immediately after the measure was introduced, however, Mr. Bernstein had found a few more changes Mr. Lewis had made that Mr. Bernstein had missed — but town leaders said they didn’t intend to allow the corrections to be made until after a public hearing on the measure, which won’t happen, they said, until after the planning board issues its own report and recommendations on the measure.