November 18, 2019

Panel tables `relaxation spa’ proposals

BANGOR — The Municipal Operations Committee on Tuesday considered two models for an ordinance regulating sexually oriented “relaxation spas,” and found neither of them tempting. The committee voted 3-0 to indefinitely postpone the proposals.

Christopher Popper, Patricia Blanchette and William Cohen were the three councilors attending on Tuesday, and two of them made it clear they thought the whole thing was a waste of time.

“I don’t see any great need to legislate this,” Popper said after police Chief Randy Harriman explained that such businesses had been in the city for about seven years. Harriman said that most of the complaints his department had received had come from former employees or from parents of female employees.

“Prostitution is a fact of life,” Blanchette said. “You cannot regulate morality. It’s just media hype.” She added that it would not have been an issue if not for the press, which had “no imagination to dig up actual reportable news.”

She and Popper were also critical of Councilor Timothy Woodcock, who had asked City Solicitor Erik Stumpfel to prepare draft ordinances on the issue. “He should have been here to introduce it,” Blanchette said.

Even though the committee did not recommend either proposal to the full council, any individual councilor may still ask to have an ordinance put on the council agenda.

Stumpfel made a presentation to explain the proposals and the situation that has led to cities such as Brewer and Portland to adopt such ordinances.

State law prohibits prostitution, paying a person to perform “sexual acts.” Sexual acts involve physical contact between the genitals of one person and the genitals, mouth or rectum of the other person.

State law does not address payment for “sexual contact” — touching the genitals, Stumpfel said, so that kind of activity in a relaxation spa is not legally prostitution. That is the loophole in the law that some cities have tried to address, he said.

One proposal modeled on a Brewer ordinance “would prohibit sexual contact for pecuniary benefit,” Stumpfel said.

Another proposal modeled after a Portland ordinance takes a different approach and would place “regulations on what personnel could and could not do,” he said. That model also requires any “massage establishment” to be supervised by a state-licensed massage therapist.

Attorney Marshall Carey, representing the owners of The Oasis and Classic Touch, told the committee, “The state has regulated this activity.”

He acknowledged that there was a loophole in the law, and went on to say that an assistant attorney general who works in Bangor “tells me that the loophole was intentional.” Asked after the meeting to identify the state official who told him that, Carey refused to do so.

The committee members were aware that Brewer had passed an ordinance earlier this year, but did not find that reason to follow suit.

“The perfect example of not to do it is because Brewer did it,” Blanchette said.

No one at the meeting spoke in favor of regulating or prohibiting the relaxation spas.

Lawrence Merrill, a Bangor lawyer, said that “if someone can find his happiness” in such a place, he should have the opportunity to do so. He said the only point of such an ordinance was “trying to put a certain class of people out of business.”

He also offered a “Bangor model” of a resolution that would have the city “choose not to harass and try to ruin businesses located within its limits unless and until said businesses cause significant problems with the health and welfare of its residents.”

The relaxation spas, Merrill’s model said, cause “no more harm” than bars or gambling establishments.

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