By Floyd Ingram/Chickasaw Journal
Okolona churches have united to fight a proposed topless bar in their community.
More than a dozen pastors and more than 130 city residents attended a meeting of the Okolona City Council last week to urge the city to ban adult businesses and clubs.
“We don’t want them in our community, period,” said Rev. Thomas Warren of New Freedom Full Gospel Church and a member of the Okolona Ministerial Alliance. “We don’t want those clubs and bars put in anywhere in our town and we approached the city to make sure our feelings were known.”
Okolona aldermen have imposed a 90-day ban on any new bar or club in the city until it can craft an ordinance regulating adult businesses. The ban was prompted after Rodney Shumpert, of Nettleton, sought a permit in November to open a topless club at the former Dub’s Sports Bar amp& Grill on Monroe Street.
The pastors and group have prompted the city to seek an opinion from the Mississippi Attorney General, and Chickasaw County native, Jim Hood to determine if the city can ban adult businesses.
Rev. Eric Boykin, pastor of First Baptist Church of Okolona and also a member of the Okolona Ministerial Alliance, said Okolona does not need this kind of business and presented the board with a Mississippi law that allows municipalities to ban “disreputable places and practices.”
“We were told there was nothing we could do and all the city could do was regulate those businesses,” said Boykin. “We disagree and feel the Mississippi Code allows municipalities to prohibit those businesses. We call on the city to not just regulate this but to say no and ban it.”
Okolona City Attorney Gene Barton said the Board of Aldermen and Mayor have told him they don’t support a topless bar but they don’t want to be sued by Shumpert.
“The law they cited goes back to 1892 and is what we call antiquated and puts the city on shaky ground if that statute is what we base our decision on,” said Barton. “Let me assure you, if the Attorney General says we can ban it on the basis of this law, the Okolona Mayor and Board of Aldermen will do it in a minute.”
Barton said he expects the AG’s office to formally respond within 30 days.
Barton said he continues to write what he considers a very detailed and strict ordinance for the city.
That ordinance prohibits the sale of alcohol, limits hours of operation, requires sprinkler systems, demands a specified number of parking space and the hiring of security guards. The city is also writing zoning ordinances that limit where clubs and bar can locate in the city.
“I have looked at what other cities have done to draw up ordinances that make if very difficult for those type businesses to operate,” said Barton. “I really don’t see this type business doing all these requirements to open in Okolona. Like I said, if we can’t ban them our aldermen have said they want our regulations to be very strict.”
Boykin said while the churches of the Okolona Ministerial Alliance have been called on to make this a matter of prayer, they are also doing everything in their power to legally stop this.
“We don’t think that kind of business will improve our economy, its not good for children and families, it’s not something Okolona wants to be known for and it is morally wrong,” said Boykin. “Those kinds of places attract drugs and violence and we already have an over extended police force.”
Shumpert has said he chose Okolona because of the success of The Pony, another topless club on Highway 45 in Lowndes County, and because Tupelo does not allow alcohol to be served at topless bars.
Shumpert said he plans invest more than $200,000 in the property and will start work on the building as soon as the moratorium is lifted.