Press conference confrontation leads to deeper issues
Melyssa Donaghy, also known as Miss Ann, meets with city prosecutor Teri Kendrick while news cameras roll in the aftermath of a contentious press conference about Donaghy's businesses.
It certainly made good television. The Thursday morning confrontation between Melyssa Donaghy - also known as Miss Ann - and Mayor Bart Peterson led many local news stories, but underneath it lies a debate over semantics, zoning laws and the nature of adult business.
Donaghy and the mayor sparred briefly during a conference when Peterson announced updates to the administration's crackdown on illegal adult entertainment establishments. He noted the closing of Donaghy's shop, The Reformatory, and zoning violations served on her Meridian-Kessler house as notable successes. The conference was held in the Chatham Arch neighborhood, across the street from the old Reformatory site and in the parking lot of Day Nursery. Peterson declined to speak with Donaghy during the conference when she spoke up and tried to ask questions, directing her instead to reporters.
The zoning violations charged against Donaghy's Meridian-Kessler home center on her business of dominance and submission arts. Last week, she was served with a summons to environmental court in January and faces an order to cease operations and a potential $2,500 fine.
"There are certain kinds of businesses that can be operated in the home, and we are taking the position that this is not one of them," city prosecutor Teri Kendrick said.
After media questioning about repeated use of the phrase "illegal adult businesses," Kendrick noted that neither The Reformatory nor the home business matters were considered criminal activity - nor were either legally classified as adult businesses.
"'Adult entertainment business' is a very technical term. This technically does not fit under any of those ... But you look up the word adult in the dictionary, one of the definitions of the word adult is activity of an adult nature," Kendrick said. "Kink and merchandise for sexual and erotic torture is ... not what the historic preservation commission had in mind when they granted a variance for gallery and studio space."
Donaghy maintained that The Reformatory's primary purpose was as an art shop, and that city attention did not play a role in its closing.
"Less than 24 percent of my inventory were floggers and crops that you could use for role-playing," she said. "I closed the shop because I was only making about $10 an hour to run it. So I just made a decision that it wasn't worth my time, and I closed it ... I sold $2,000 worth of local art in that space in four months. The mayor has a cultural tourism initiative that is about the arts, and I was putting money directly into artists' pockets."
After her comments, Department of Metropolitan Development spokesperson Justin Ohlemiller directed reporters to Donaghy's Web site, where he said she cites that "city attorneys with zoning may push and split hairs" as one of her reasons for closing down.
"If not for our efforts, she'd still be there," Ohlemiller said.
Donaghy briefly spoke with Kendrick in front of reporters, but said she wants to meet with Kendrick in the near future.
"She was wanting to talk, but they were shoving the cameras in my face, and I was like, 'I do not want to have this conversation with the city attorney on film,'" Donaghy said. "I would have explained that there's a lot that's misunderstood about [dominance and submission] and the role-play that I'm doing. I want to help them look at the law and write the law so it does protect people."
By the end of the afternoon, both sides had laid down battle lines for the future. Donaghy said that she intends to fight the violations, and is attempting to get the ICLU involved and seek out community support. She's setting up a legal defense fund, in which an anonymous donor is matching donations, which will remain available for others with similar cases.
"I have a choice: I can lay down and bow down to them and give in, and let this affront to personal freedom go unchecked," Donaghy said. "However, if I have overwhelming community support to protect freedom in this city, I will fight ... I am going to be leading an effort so that there is a legal fund in this city for people who practice these arts, so that their government doesn't run over them."
Peterson said that he would remain committed to maintaining neighborhood quality of life with strictly construed zoning laws.
"We're going to have to constantly fight this battle," Peterson said. "If you want to try to keep people from opening these kinds of businesses, you're going to have to continue to fight all the time."