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Strip-Club Law Petition Collectors Deceptive, Some Say

Ohio- As Fran Dodge and her son were leaving the Jazz & Rib Fest on Friday, a woman with a clipboard asked her to sign a petition to close strip clubs at midnight.

“Why not?” Dodge thought and signed her name.

What the 49-year-old Powell woman soon discovered, however, was that she had signed a petition that could potentially overturn a state law restricting strip clubs.

Dodge was shocked. “I feel used,” she said.

It’s a scene that may be repeated statewide as voters face confusion about a proposed referendum that would undo a law set to take effect Sept. 4. Among other things, the law requires most adult-oriented businesses to close at midnight and prohibits patrons from touching dancers.

The referendum is backed by Citizens for Community Standards, an organization comprised of the Buckeye Association of Club Executives and Dancers for Democracy, a group of strippers.

The group has collected about 100,000 of the 241,366 signatures needed to qualify for the ballot.

Spokeswoman Sandy Theis said circulators are “not intentionally misleading anybody. We’ve trained and retrained the circulators.”

She said the referendum is a rarely used process in Ohio, the issue is complicated, and the average Ohioan doesn’t know the details of the new law.

“I would love to hire lawyers to pass the petition,” she said, “but they don’t work for $1 a signature.”

After inquiries by The Dispatch on Friday, Theis wrote a new “script” to be distributed to circulators to use in gathering signatures.

Can you help us get on the ballot in November?

We’re trying to repeal new, statewide restrictions on strip clubs and need about 240,000 signatures to put it up for a vote.

We think local governments should have the power to write restrictions based on what’s good for their local communities.

The new state regulations are so extreme that if you touch a stripper — even on the elbow — you and the stripper could go to jail for 30 days.

Citizens for Community Values, the Cincinnati group that spearheaded the drive to pass the new law, said opponents are gathering signatures fraudulently.

Phil Richter, director of the Ohio Elections Commission, said there is no history of complaints about misrepresentation by circulators.

“There is a rule against making false statements, but it deals with campaign materials tending to influence the outcome of an election. This isn’t on the ballot.

“There really isn’t anything that’s going to limit or restrict what somebody like that does.”

One of the circulators working the Jazz & Rib Fest was torn about her commitment to gathering signatures for the referendum.

Jacqueline Manigoe, 41, of the East Side, was hoping to make some quick money gathering signatures at $1 per name. She said she didn’t read the referendum until that day.

When she signed up to do it, Manigoe thought the strip club restrictions wouldn’t pass without a vote. But when she learned the Ohio General Assembly passed the law earlier this year, the issue became foggy in her mind.

“I feel like I’m misleading the public on an issue that’s dirty on both sides,” she said. She said she was debating whether to continue getting signatures.

Circulator John Gatsch, 47, of the North Side, made his sentiments clear in marker written on his white T-shirt.

“Don’t let the state stifle us. Stop intrusive and ridiculous legislation. Protect your rights to free expression.”

Gatsch, who gathered signatures for the smoking issues last summer, said petitioners who are misleading or vague aren’t doing their job.

“There’s just kind of a code for petitioners: You don’t do that,” he said.

Another petitioner approached Beth Kemper, 37, of Cincinnati, as she left the festival with her son, Robert.

“Sign this petition, it’s against strip clubs,” the woman said, quickly asking if they were registered voters.

Robert is 14, Kemper told her.

The woman told him to sign the petition anyway, Kemper said.

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“I feel like I’m misleading the public on an issue that’s dirty on both sides.”

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