Delaware City Council continued discussions on their proposed ordinance to regulate local massage parlors during their Monday meeting. The ordinance comes as law enforcement and human trafficking prevention groups all across the country continue to peel back the curtain on the culture of sexual slavery that exist just beyond the public’s eye at some massage establishments.
Under the ordinance, the city would require any new massage parlors coming into the city to be licensed through the State Medical Board of Ohio unless exempt, such as chiropractors or doctors, before being able to receive a certificate of zoning compliance.
Businesses that have already been granted their certificate of occupancy to offer services in Delaware would not be affected by this ordinance. When conversations first began about this ordinance last September, concerns were raised by city staff about bringing unintended consequences on already-established, legitimate businesses.
City Attorney Darren Shulman said previously that current businesses wouldn’t face any “accidental impact” through this ordinance, and that it served as more of a “preventative measure” moving forward.
The city has said their ordinance would reflect what Westerville recently passed. However, the language of the ordinance, as it is currently written, states all massage treatments must be provided by or under the supervision of a state licensed individual. Westerville’s ordinance will require all massage therapists employed to be licensed through the state. Through delayed implementation, existing businesses will have until 2020 for employees to complete the certification program and obtain a license.
As Delaware City Council members were made aware of that discrepancy in language Monday night, they requested the ordinance include the stipulation that all who service providers be licensed.
Monday’s meeting also served as a public hearing on the ordinance. Susan McGrail, a Delaware resident and licensed social worker for the state, voiced concerns over the ordinance’s failure to require business owners to live outside of the parlor in which they are running, suggesting owners could be licensed while having other people living in the establishment.
McGrail pointed out the Westerville ordinance requires anyone employed by the business to have a home address separate from that of the business.
Councilman Chris Jones agreed with McGrail’s concerns, pointing out that in most cases involving massage parlors and human trafficking or prostitution, the women and leaders of the operation are all living within the establishment.
Responding to their concerns, Dave Efland said, “In our business districts, as the code is written today, residential (use) is not permitted,” adding the downtown district is an exception because there is living space above some of the businesses, and also some planned development districts could also fall under a similar situation.
Councilman Kyle Rohrer raised the question of how home-based businesses would fall into any regulations concerning the home addresses of owners.
Efland and Assistant City Attorney Chris Ballard said they would look further into potentially adding language addressing those concerns ahead of the next reading of the ordinance.
While other council members discussed adding language to the ordinance, Councilman George Hellinger stayed firm with his stance that the city was making more of the issue than is necessary.
Last September, Hellinger said he would not support any type of legislation regarding regulation of massage parlors. During discussions last month, he said in regards to the proposed ordinance, “Not every unlicensed, non-therapeutic massage place is the ‘happy ending’ massage parlor. There’s a wide variety there, and I think it’s up to our law enforcement to keep illicit businesses in check.”
“I think we’re taking an elephant gun to a mouse,” he said Monday of the proposed ordinance, prefacing the comment by acknowledging human trafficking issues exist.
He added, “Just because you have a medical license doesn’t mean you are immune from sexual assault, from providing sexual services, whatever that is. All of those things can still apply … a certificate, a piece of paper does not mean anything. There are lots of doctors out there, I’m sure, who are involved in human trafficking.”
Hellinger went on to say human trafficking has been around forever and would continue to exist after the city passes an ordinance. He suggested all the city can do is “try to identify the causes of that are within our community and ensure that those sources are minimized,” suggesting the cause has as much to do with those receiving the service as much as the provider itself.
Jones agreed with Hellinger in the sense that there is a much larger picture to the human trafficking crisis, but said that the City of Delaware can’t control the bigger picture.
“All I can control are the ordinances in the city of Delaware,” Jones said. “If I can have any little smidge (of impact) to keep it out of Delaware, that’s what I want to do. That’s all I can do.”
The ordinance will go to a fourth reading, which should reflect the additions discussed on Monday, at the next city council meeting, which is scheduled for Monday, April 8, at 7 p.m.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @ddavis_gazette.