Evanston City Council rejects massage ordinance


Daily file photo by Sean Su

Ald. Donald Wilson (4th) speaks at a city council meeting. Wilson voted against an ordinance that would have regulated massage and bodywork establishments Monday night.

Nora Shelly, Assistant City Editor

City Council rejected an ordinance that would regulate massage and bodywork establishments Monday night.

What we were trying to accomplish was a very specific, discrete thing which was generally if someone is operating an illegal, improper business, probably without state licensing … the police department needs a way to shut down the bad business,” said Ald. Donald Wilson (4th), who voted against the ordinance. “We have to maintain order, we have to maintain legality, but this just goes way … beyond that.”

The massage ordinance was introduced before the council in March, but was held after complaints from many Evanston massage therapists and bodyworkers made it clear they did not approve of the ordinance. According to City Council documents, city staff has since worked with many massage therapists and bodyworkers to revise the proposed regulations.

The revised proposed ordinance removed items such as the requirements to have on-site gender-separated changing rooms and to post prominently the price ranges for massages in the reception area.

The ordinance voted down Monday night would have required massage therapists and bodyworkers to register with the city and implemented various other requirements, such as prohibiting an individual convicted of prostitution, rape, sexual misconduct or any other similar crime from being licensed.

Additionally, it would have required that the rooms in which massages are performed be able to be unlocked from the interior and prohibited massage therapists and bodyworkers from touching the sexual or genital area or advertising their age, gender or physical attributes.

“It’s kind of convoluted and complicated,” Evanston massage therapist Sarah McLaughlin told The Daily. “Ultimately I think that what they were looking for is something very simple and it’s just not that simple.”

Although she says she would not have issues with an ordinance that required licensing and was appreciative of the city’s efforts to get input from industry professionals, Mclaughlin said any future ordinance just “has to make sense.”

The ordinance was originally proposed to address illicit behavior from a specific establishment, said Ald. Delores Holmes (5th), who voted for the ordinance. Holmes said she and Ald. Peter Braithwaite (2nd) received an email earlier this year from Evanston Township High School parents who were concerned with a business on Church Street their children frequently walked past that appeared to be involved in illicit activities.  

Although the ordinance may be overkill, Holmes said there needed to be a middle ground so businesses that were breaking the law could be shut down.

I think that having the police close the bad guys down is what we always want, but the police have to have something in order to be able to close them down,” she said. It is about having some regulations that will keep this kind of thing from happening.”

Holmes told The Daily that she was also in support of regulating other service businesses, like nail or beauty shops, to prevent crime.

Several aldermen said the issues with the massage ordinance were reminiscent of those with the neighborhood integrity ordinance, which was moved for further review to a subcommittee earlier this year after problems with the wording of the ordinance incited opposition from some aldermen and Evanston landlords.

Ald. Ann Rainey (8th) said ordinances similar to the massage and neighborhood integrity ordinances may create controversy and should be brought before council members first. Rainey voted against the massage ordinance and said it did not properly address the small number of problem establishments.

“This is plain and simple a police problem,” she said.

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