Skin City

Is Vicki Johnson an enemy of free speech -- or the last person speaking freely in the fight over who runs Sheridan?

"Thousands and thousands of dollars were spent on the recall," Johnson says. "There was mailing after mailing. A bus taking people to vote. T-shirts. We saw Lowrie's people hauling boxes of materials."

Candidate Radke, who was active in opposing the recall, remembers talking to a political consultant who wanted $25,000 to launch a counter-campaign: "I told him, 'We're a small city. We don't have that kind of money.' And Mayor Egan refused to go to businesses for that kind of money because he felt they would want something in return. So we went at it from a grassroots level. The other side did T-shirts, water bottles, surveys, fliers, a trolley they took around the neighborhood -- there was huge money behind that. And after it was over, we couldn't find a record of any of that money."


It didn't take long for the revamped Sheridan City Council's agenda to materialize. In March, Lowrie appeared before the group to urge the passage of a new ordinance that would solve everybody's problems. The proposed measure would change the city's definition of nude dancing so that All Stars could be recognized as an all-nude business that had been operating in Sheridan before the ban on future nude enterprises took effect. In other words, All Stars' all-nude show would be grandfathered in, and history would be rewritten to state that the club had always featured nude dancing, even though it hadn't. 8?d©d$rie presented himself as a bighearted businessman -- he's donated $150,000 to a Sheridan elementary school and stock worth at least that much to the campaign to build a new library at Columbine High School -- whose pursuit of happiness and free-speech rights had been trifled with. "I don't think there's anybody that can say there's been a deleterious or negative effect that All Stars has had on this community," he said.

He told the council that the dismissal of his lawsuit against the city was just a technicality. He reminded them that a battle over one of his clubs in Louisville, Kentucky, had resulted in a $260,000 judgment against the town fathers of that burg. "That's the last thing I would want to do with this city," he said. "But the fact is, it's going to be a long, drawn-out fight if it's going to continue."

The new city attorney, Jim Windholz, agreed with Lowrie. Even though Sheridan had won every round so far, settlement with Lowrie would be cheaper than continuing to fight him, he said. Windholz was also of the opinion that councilmembers Don Smith and Chanele Beacham need not recuse themselves from voting on the ordinance, even though both had sons who worked for Lowrie. Legally, their participation wouldn't constitute an ethical violation, Windholz explained, because the city hadn't yet adopted a formal code of ethics.

Smith moved for passage of the new ordinance. Beacham seconded the motion. The measure passed, four to three.

Johnson and Radke had argued strenuously against the move. As they saw it, the new ordinance did nothing to protect the city from the threat of lawsuits filed by other club owners who might want to offer nude dancing in Sheridan; it might even invite such suits, since it had so clearly been tailored to Lowrie's demands. At the next council meeting, which was devoted largely to finalizing a settlement agreement with Lowrie, the two women were joined by dozens of other protesters.

"You're proposing to grant a special favor to one business and overturn the Colorado courts," Johnson told the council. "You're attempting to settle a case that's already been settled.... [Lowrie] is collecting on his investment. Tell me this isn't a payback."

They told her no such thing. Instead, amid many noble statements about the sacred constitutional protections of free expression, they approved a settlement in which All Stars agreed to drop its litigation and keep its signage discreet, so as not to "advertise or give notice to the public of totally nude dancing at its premises," in exchange for passage of the public-indecency ordinance that Lowrie had requested. Tit for tat, as it were: The city would pretend All Stars already had its permission to go bottomless, and All Stars wouldn't make too much noise about the holy mysteries to be found within its walls.

Chuck West, one of the councilmembers who voted against the new ordinance, told the audience that Lowrie had attempted to buy every member of the council, including himself. Asked recently to clarify his remarks, West explains that Lowrie had approached him on an earlier occasion with a vague offer -- something like, "Anything you need, just let me know and I'll take care of it."

"I told him I take care of the finances myself, and that way I don't owe anybody," West says. On another occasion, he adds, he met up with Lowrie after a council meeting and suggested that there were at least three votes on the council he couldn't buy. According to West, Lowrie replied, "I got rid of the ones I needed to, and I can get rid of the rest if I have to."

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