Under Analysis: Let's run this one up the pole

Mark Levison, The Levison Group

I recently reviewed a public copy of a personally signed “OFFICIAL MEMORANDUM” from the Director of my state’s Department of Mental Health. The Director used the “OFFICIAL MEMORANDUM” to report that the Department had learned that one of its 1,800 community agencies, whose job is to serve persons with developmental disabilities, took some of its “consumers” out on a questionable therapeutic road trip. The Director reported that the consumers’ therapy consisted of visits to “strip clubs or other similar establishments.” I’m not sure what they were consuming there, nor am I exactly certain what is meant by “other similar establishments.” My mind is kind of running wild trying to figure out just what type of undisclosed establishments he was referring to that are “similar” to a strip club. The agency reportedly provided transportation and supervision for these events, utilizing both state and local government funds. Presumably the strippers appreciated that, and hopefully will report their earnings back to the government that has been so generous to them. I can’t help but wonder what kind of “supervision” was provided to those with developmental disabilities, and I’m betting the folks in the agency were fighting over the right to “supervise” the therapy.

The Director’s “OFFICIAL MEMORANDUM” duly reported that his office had taken two different actions. The first action was to suggest to the provider agency that trips to strip clubs, or “other similar establishments,” did not qualify as an appropriate therapeutic activity. His second action was ordering that an investigation be undertaken to determine if the trips constituted client abuse under applicable law.
After what I am absolutely certain was a time consuming investigation — and what investigator would not consider field work and personal interviews an important part of doing a good job — it was determined that it was not “possible to substantiate abuse and neglect.” Personally, I am upset by this determination and don’t think we should let this decision rest. I truly believe a follow-up inquiry is called for, and I, for one, am volunteering my services. Perhaps a closer look will result in better findings. According to the Director, the relevant legal standard, that such action “resulted in direct and affirmable harm to a client” was not met. I can only assume that after the erstwhile investigator spoke to the clients, it was determined that the victims were, in fact, entertained, not neglected.

More specifically, the Director noted that while the clients of the Department of Mental Health were “vulnerable,” the investigation concluded that “no direct harm to the clients involved could be substantiated.” I suppose the implicit finding is that barely clothed “dancers” swinging from poles, does not constitute a clear and present danger to patrons. Nevertheless, to make the record clear, the Director’s “OFFICIAL MEMORANDUM” warned that even though the legal standard for abuse and neglect could not be met, that did not mean the agency had exhibited “general good judgment.” That seems to be a blinding glimpse of the obvious, particularly in light of the fact that taxpayers’ dollars paid for the “activities.” The Director went on to warn that it was the “strong opinion” of the Department of Mental Health’s executive leadership that such trips “should not occur.” Unfortunately, the specific “activities” at the strip clubs, or “other similar establishments,” were not detailed by the Director, and will only be uncovered if I am selected to do a follow-up investigation.

This episode is, needless to say, only one more example of two great American traditions: (1) the questionable use of government money in respect to sexual activities; and (2) the unquestionable attraction of politicians and government employees to interpretive dancing (a/k/a strip clubs).

Our proud recent history involving politicians, strippers and prostitutes prominently includes Eliot Spitzer, the crusading anti-corruption New York Governor, who was brought down by a call girl and tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of visits. We never did figure out if she could dance. Then there is the former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, just elected in May to the U.S. House of Representatives. Sanford, who at the time of his particular scandal was serving as the Chairman of the Republican Governor’s Association, eventually admitted to visiting his paramour in Argentina, after his cover story that he was “hiking the Appalachian Trail” ran aground. Sanford made restitution of the government funds allegedly spent on the Argentinian, and “Hiking the Appalachian Trail” has now found its place in the American lexicon of entertaining euphemisms.

Not to be outdone by his fellow member of the Grand Old Party, Republican Chairman Michael Steele became embroiled in a sex-related scandal by authorizing the $1,900 spent by members of the Committee who were conducting party business at a bondage club.

We are reminded of the adage emblazoned on the edifice of the National Archives Building in Washington D.C.: “What Is Past Is Prologue,” and the guiding legal principle of stare decisis which indicates our historic preference to rely upon paths already taken. In fact, I may be showing my age, but I remember the road taken by powerful House Ways and Means Chairman Wilbur Mills. The Chairman had a very public debacle with “Fanne Foxe,” an employee of a local DC strip joint, which culminated in her jumping out of the car and taking a dip in the Washington Monument Tidal Basin. This rich American heritage goes back certainly as far as the Long’s of Louisiana. Governor Long’s Bourbon Street strip club affair with dancer Blaze Starr landed him on the big screen in the movie Blaze (staring Paul Newman as the Governor), and, with the help of his wife, got him temporarily committed to an insane asylum. The crafty Louisiana Governor eventually escaped the insane asylum, fired its staff and then, like South Carolina’s former Governor, got himself elected to the United States Congress.

So, before anybody out there gets agitated about a little debacle in the Department of Mental Health over therapeutic dance at a local strip club, I advise you to take a deep breath and read some old newspapers. After all, this trip was merely the most recent example of minor lapses of judgment in our very long and proud history of sex-related governmental precedent. Just ask Gary Hart, John Edwards or Bill Clinton.


Under Analysis is a nationally syndicated column. Mark Levison is a member of the law firm Lashly & Baer. You can reach the Levison Group in care of this paper or by e-mail at comments@levisongroup.com.
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