It looks like Columbia County was just ahead of its time.
Way back in 1999, after a rash (not literally) of prostitution arrests, Columbia County Sheriff Clay Whittle and District Attorney Danny Craig padlocked the doors on a couple of seedy massage parlors in Martinez.
These were the sort of places that fit all the bad stereotypes: Asian names, immigrant workers, racy ads. An old friend of mine, who now works as a massage therapist in Athens, hated those places for giving her profession a bad reputation.
The Sheriffs Office didn't care for these places, either. Investigators performed some undercover work (literally), and busted several of the girls at two Martinez massage parlors on prostitution-related charges.
(A funny story: A Columbia County cop, a while back, told me that one of the investigators - a new kid - botched one of the undercover operations when he let the girl-for-hire, shall we say, complete the act.)
Former Columbia County Commissioner Frank Spears also disliked the massage parlors. After the busts, the then-freshman commissioner pushed through a change in the county ordinances to require licensing and credentials from legitimate massage businesses.
The result? You can get a pretty good massage at several reputable salons in Columbia County. But sleazoids have to look elsewhere if they're trying to find a cheap hooker.
It wasn't until last year, after a couple of similar arrests, that Augusta officials finally cracked down on their own seedy spas. They then began looking to Columbia Countys law as a model for keeping the businesses out.
Well, better late than never, Georgia lawmakers are now contemplating enacting such rules statewide.
House Bill 386 would set up a state board to regulate and license massage therapists, much like the board that currently licenses hairdressers. The bill also includes some silly regulations regarding advertising - apparently, only ugly masseuses could be pictured. (Actually, the aim is to eliminate provacative ads with beautiful models posing as massage therapists; the bill would allow only pictures of hands, wrists and forearms in ads.)
"I was laughing when I saw that bill," says Spears, when asked about how long it took for lawmakers to finally see the need to make these regulations apply uniformly across the state. "I was thinking, 'man, we've been down that road before.'"
Hopefully, the state's road won't be as rough as Columbia County's; legitimate massage therapists were up in arms when Spears first pushed the proposal. They were worried that the conditions would be so strict that theyd all be put out of business. But its all worked out quite nicely, and the seedy spas are no more.
Of course, there's now a new threat: Columbia County deputies last week busted a woman for prostitution at a "lingerie modeling" service in Martinez. Officials have gone back to the zoning books to see if such scuzzy businesses can be kept out of the county, too.
Dr. Lee headed south:
A Feb. 19 News-Times editorial (http://www.newstimesonline.com/stories/021903/opi_opinion_021803_1741_1.shtml) stirred up a few folks when it recounted the escape-from-justice exploits of Dr. Jerry Jackson Lee II, formerly of Evans. That editorial said last wed heard, Lee had moved to Missis-sippi.
Thanks to an alert reader, we've received a copy of an ad that ran in a south Georgia newspaper for Lees new practice in Hazelhurst, Ga. Lee recently held the grand opening of the Magnolia Womens Center after failing to get hospital privileges in Mississippi, running afoul of the law in Augusta and getting slapped with malpractice suits in Moultrie, Ga.
If at first you dont succeed, move away?
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to bpaschal@ newstimesonline.com, or call 863-6165, extension 106.)
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