Skin City

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

Johnson's letter went on to warn that Lowrie "will draw the biggest pool of potential employees...from our children." The fact that Lowrie has already hired the offspring of two members of the Sheridan City Council would seem to support that assertion, her lawyer contends.

Most of Johnson's broadsides, though, have nothing to do with All Stars specifically. They cite surveys involving a broad range of adult-entertainment venues, including porn arcades and bookstores, that suggest such businesses bring an alarming increase in crime and a decrease in property values. Johnson's statistics are questionable (e.g., a 340 percent increase in "pandering"), and you can see how the owner of a classy gentleman's club might take exception to being lumped in with the raincoat crowd; still, there's no denying that there's a downside to having a strip club in your neighborhood.

Evidence of the possible "negative effects" of erotic-dance emporiums can be found even in the not-so-distant history of the Lowrie family business. At the time of his death, in 1994, Hal Lowrie, Troy's father, was under indictment in Illinois, charged with money-laundering, pimping and racketeering. A local police chief admitted taking bribes from Lowrie's strip-club operations in exchange for ignoring a prostitution ring.

The bottom line: Ousted city councilwoman Vicki 
Johnson says her colleagues are "selling out" 
Sheridan to strip clubs.
Anthony Camera
The bottom line: Ousted city councilwoman Vicki Johnson says her colleagues are "selling out" Sheridan to strip clubs.
The bottom line: Ousted city councilwoman Vicki 
Johnson says her colleagues are "selling out" 
Sheridan to strip clubs.
Anthony Camera
The bottom line: Ousted city councilwoman Vicki Johnson says her colleagues are "selling out" Sheridan to strip clubs.

Troy Lowrie has always maintained that his father was innocent of the charges. His own clubs have generally clean records, with the exception of an occasional fine for the misbehavior of an isolated employee or two; veteran cops in Sheridan say they've had less trouble with All Stars than with bars in which people keep their clothes on. And Lowrie has fought fiercely to protect his own reputation. In addition to filing suit against Johnson, Lowrie attorney Daniel Foster also fired off letters to the two other leaders of the Sheridan Cares Committee, Cynthia Radke and Lorrie Lunnon.

"Please take this letter as your only notification that further slanderous or libelous activity will not go unchallenged," Foster wrote. "Understand that this letter is not intended to stop you from engaging in the political process, it is only intended to stop the malicious abuses against my client. The next piece of libelous literature you publish will force legal action."

If the letter was supposed to be a friendly reminder, the women of Sheridan Cares didn't see it that way. "I became unconflicted when I got that letter," Radke says. "It was a threat. It angered me. They'd acted like they wanted to compromise, and then I got this. And then Mr. Lowrie disavowed any knowledge of that letter."

"My first reaction was, 'I don't have the money to fight this,'" Lunnon recalls. "But then it was, 'He's not going to intimidate me.'"

The nude-dancing controversy could cost Sheridan dearly in next week's election. At a time when questions about conflicts of interest and imperious behavior abound, the city is trying to persuade voters to okay a new head tax and a use tax. Last month, with little prior notice, Mayor Carter called for the resignation of Jim Sidebottom, ostensibly as a cost-cutting move -- despite objections from three councilmembers, who said that Sidebottom had been an excellent city manager. Johnson sees Sidebottom's removal, and the resulting lack of supervision of Sample and Carter's husband, as a violation of the city charter.

"She's hired a part-time manager who's only dealing with a few issues," she says of Carter. "The police and fire chief are going to be in charge of the budget. That was her objective, to let the police and fire chief and her run the city."

While Sidebottom has no wish to "badmouth" his former employer, he finds the timing of his dismissal troubling. "They really didn't need all this turmoil right before the election," he says. "If people are concerned, they tend to vote no on taxes, and the revenue increases that are on the ballot this year are crucial."

At times, Johnson gets discouraged over all the sniping in her town. "But I'm not quitting now," she says.

Her supporters admire her tenacity and fearlessness. "I'm more cautious," says Radke. "Vicki goes for it. It aggravates me sometimes. She can be pretty assertive and forceful. But our effort would never have got this far if it wasn't for her."

"She's a housewife who wanted her street fixed," Lunnon says. "But her heart is in this 100 percent. She doesn't want to see the city go down the drain. She sees, like I do, someone coming in and taking over. Governments aren't run this way."

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