Will the courts' bring back teen dances?

See you in court

Seattle's controversial Teen Dance Ordinance was struck dead by the City Council last August only to rise again through the veto power of Mayor Paul Schell.

The Joint Artists and Music Promotions Action Committee (a.k.a. JAMPAC), the TDO's leading opponent, is now counting on the courts to knock off this sucker. JAMPAC's lawsuit, filed December 15, charges that the 1985 ordinance exceeds the scope of the city's police powers, violates your civil rights, and constitutes an unfair business practice. According to JAMPAC, this legal challenge has been in the works since Schell's veto but was put on hold during the group's attempts to convince Seattle City Council members to override the mayor's decision.

This isn't just another lawsuit. For starters, a constitutional claim like this one involves no factual disputes, so it's likely to be heard quickly (probably within the next few months). Making matters worse for the city, JAMPAC's attorney is Dave Osgood, the same guy who has made mincemeat of other anti-music laws in court. The constitutional claims in this case are also quite similar to those in another recent Osgood-argued case. In that suit, a 60-year-old state law requiring the licensing of nightclubs that offer music or dancing was struck down by a US District Court judge.

Beyond this, the law itself stinks. "It was really written for one purpose, and that was to make this industry economically impossible," says Osgood. And, in that regard, "it has worked admirably," he adds.

Enacted in 1985, while the city was trying to close down an all-ages dance club called the Monastery, the TDO was designed to put similar clubs out of business by piling on the regulations. To operate a club serving teenagers, owners must buy $1 million in liability insurance, indemnify the city against legal claims, serve only patrons between the ages of 15 and 20, and hire off-duty cops to provide security. The law also includes a raft of exceptions, including small clubs (150 patrons or less), nonprofit events, school dances, and—surprise!--events held by the city itself. "They have basically regulated out any private, for-profit operation in favor of city venues and events," notes Osgood.

The attorney also finds fault with the "police as security" requirement, noting that off-duty police must be hired through a private organization, the Seattle Police Officers' Guild, and that there is no legal requirement that officers be provided upon request. "The Police Guild, by not agreeing to work for a venue, can shut down free speech," he says.

In case things don't work out in court, expect JAMPAC (a political action committee and lobbying organization) to try to assert itself at the ballot box. "Not only do we lobby on behalf of the music industry in Washington state, we also donate to pro-music candidates and do whatever we can to support them in their races," says Executive Director Angel Combs. "We're going to be supporting an opponent to Mayor Schell and to City Attorney Mark Sidran." But, given that Seattle incumbents are notoriously hard to displace, the courtroom will probably remain JAMPAC's most effective venue.

Incumbents sleeping well

Quick quiz: How many new members has the Seattle City Council welcomed over the past dozen years?

If you knew the answer was 17, then stand up and take a bow. Surprisingly enough, in an age when voters prescribe "new blood" as the cure for any political ailment, our city's nine-member legislative body has seen more turnover than Burger King. The record also shows that Seattle voters have a mania for new faces. Setting aside the two council members who reached office through appointment, 11 of the 15 most recent council newcomers won election on their first run for office, including all four candidates who challenged and beat incumbents.

Still, there's little indication that council incumbents Richard Conlin, Jan Drago, Nick Licata, and Richard McIver are nervously watching the shadows as they prepare for next year's reelection battles. Licata has been collecting money intermittently and now has $17,266 in his campaign kitty. Conlin has $12,537 but hasn't reported a donation in three months. Drago recently began her push for reelection, netting $33,184 in contributions from November fund-raising activities. Only McIver hasn't yet gotten into the election spirit, with no significant campaign activity since March.

Pollster Stuart Elway provides the only indication that this foursome should be running scared. According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (a newspaper that can afford to pay for Elway's scouting reports), the performance of the Seattle City Council as a whole was rated "poor" by 16 percent of Seattle voters surveyed. Another 34 percent said the council was only doing a "fair" job.

However, voters seldom hold their general discontent with legislative bodies against individual candidates. And the council has run into precious few controversies in the last year. (Special thanks to Mayor Paul Schell for ably absorbing the majority of citizen ire over the WTO conference.)

In fact, the council's only real media flap in the last 12 months was spurred by its resolution supporting the removal of four Snake River dams. Not to worry: Unless the council is plotting a surprise missile attack, both the four dams and our four incumbents are likely to still be standing come November.

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