Shoddy Rationale

August 28, 2006
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For either side of the strip-club battle, it was hard not to feel a slight bit of pity last week for those seeking to protect the sanctity of buck-naked entertainment in Grand Rapids — as Western Michigan U.S. District Court Justice Robert HolmesBell dressed the plaintiffs down like a boot on the first day of basic.

In one of his tongue-lashings, Holmes Bell did invoke the military, asking one of Sensations' lawyers "if he had ever been in the Army," as he chastised him for not standing straight when addressing the court.

Holmes Bell also didn't think highly of Red Barn attorney Michael Donaldson's use of the phrase "shoddy rationale." As in, "the rationale the city used when adopting this ordinance is shoddy."

"That's not lawyer-speak, counselor."

And the fight is just getting started.

Smut buster extraordinaire Scott Bergthold, the Tennessee money pit the city brought in to uphold its strip club ban, traded barbs with Allan Rubin and Gregory Fisher Lord, Sensations proprietor Mark London's lawyers No. 1 and 2, on the potential for secondary effects of adult entertainment.

Holmes Bell wasn't keen on any of that noise.

"The issue is whether or not of enforcement," he said, later adding, "Every person in this room agrees that this ordinance was adopted after careful consideration. Whether that background was shoddy remains to be seen. I think the plaintiff has established a potential, but not a substantial likelihood of overturning this ordinance …"

And with that, Holmes Bell declared that the court would not interfere with the powers of the city to enforce its ordinances, effectively deigning to do nothing until October. The case will continue, and AlleganCounty activist Dar VanderArk and Kent County Commission GOP candidate/Black Hills Citizens for a Better Community President Judy Rose can't get off the bus yet, as both remain defendants in the suit.

Portions of the ordinance went into effect last weekend — dancers are now required to wear pasties and remain six feet away from patrons.

  • This probably wasn't good news for Grand Rapids Police Chief Harry Dolan, whose department is already shorthanded without sending officers out on pasty patrol. The decline in numbers, which he attributed to the ongoing wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and abroad, was one of the issues the chief broached at the most recent Michigan Homeland Security Consortium meeting in Grand Rapids.

Mostly, Dolan talked about his lifelong battle with technology, which was fitting, because although the group includes lobbyists, universities, government organizations and consultants, its core membership is technology firms.

Dolan, born from a line of NYPD-bluers, came to Grand Rapids from a southern jurisdiction that had not yet entered the computer age.

"I thought my radio was broken," Dolan recalled. "This poor radio guy had to come tell the new chief, who's 6-foot-8, that he can't find anything wrong with the radio. … He told me most of the communication was happening on the computer."

Dolan quickly embraced the technology. He bought instructional CDs of computer basics. Like many, he was frustrated when, despite thousands of dollars of Y2K upgrades, none of the old equipment exploded or went haywire. Of course, shortly thereafter, the department's computer system did go haywire.

"You can just dial in and fix it now, right?" Dolan quipped. "Well, we were back to using paper. When I finally got somebody down there, it was, 'Fix this or take it with you.'"

His fortune changed when a patrol officer came into his office with a suggestion. He had worked with a field reporting system in the military, and thought the department would be much more efficient if it had one. He volunteered to write a program — all he would need was a few days and the $150 FileMaker database application.

"I'm thinking, great. I'm so old I've got beat cops bringing this to me," Dolan said.

Five years later, that officer is now a sergeant, and the department's entire computer system has been replaced with a custom architecture written entirely with FileMaker.

"Technology has to be based on custom needs," Dolan said. "How does it help with the job?"

During a subsequent Q/A session, a technologist asked Dolan how he would feel about using a program that identified potential terrorists or criminals based on physical or statistical criteria. Dolan called the idea "un-American" and added that he "wouldn't want to live in Russia." He also noted that it was old-fashioned community policing, and not sophisticated intelligence operations, that foiled the recent terrorist plot in England

The consortium's next meeting is Sept. 11 in Lansing. The speaker will be U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers

  • New backpacks and school supplies were distributed to 500 children in Grand Rapids as part of the 3rd Annual Back to School Carnival last weekend, sponsored by Team Tillman.

"Educating our children is our highest priority. We want them to have strong backpacks so they can bring books home from school.  We're also trying to remove a potential barrier to their learning experience by providing them with school supplies," said Team Tillman's president, Roosevelt Tillman

  • Local ad shop Hanon McKendry has captured another household brand, adding Wisconsin-based Rayovac Batteries to a stable of clients that already includes out-of-area names like Rubbermaid, Target Stores and Focus For the Family.

Recall that firm founder Bill McKendry is the region's foremost advocate for buying local creative work. Whenever his firm names a biggie, it's hard not to wonder if he has a competitor in, say, Wisconsin, ticked the biggest company in town isn't shopping local.

  • The Grand Rapids Urban Planet Web forum has had an interesting survey running this month: Which district do you prefer in the downtown area? Choices include downtown's three "welterweight contenders," with the Heartside neighborhood leading the pack at 45 percent of respondents. Monroe North (25 percent) and the West Side (14 percent) trailed far behind. More people voted for "All three are kickin!" (15 percent) than for the West Side; both were late additions.    

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