COLUMBUS – Almost four years after being arrested by Columbus police, West Point Councilwoman Judy Wilkinson is cutting her losses and closing her business in the city.
Formal Elegance, a bridal and prom store Wilkinson has operated on Veteran’s Parkway since 1989, will close by the end of the month.
“We cherish our customers and this is not about them,” Wilkinson said. “This decision was a hard one to make after 23 years in business, but I have come to the realization that I can no longer support the Columbus Consolidated Government with my tax dollars. Since the raid, I have continued to be harassed for speaking out against the selective prosecution, and I will no longer keep quiet about what happened that day, and the following three years, for fear of retaliation. It is hard enough to run a business without the threat of going to jail because a relative or girlfriend of someone in law enforcement doesn’t get a promotion, or is reprimanded and decides to use the system to carry out their personal vendetta. There are many laws in place to protect employees, but business owners should be afforded the same protection. I am forever grateful to our customers and to the citizens of West Point, Columbus, and the Greater Valley Area, and especially to the law enforcement officers who supported me during this difficult time.”
Wilkinson was arrested and earned the nickname “Mimosa Madam” in November 2009 after police did a “business check” at the store. She was charged with two misdemeanors, operating without an alcohol license - a local charge - and “dealing in alcohol without a license” - a state charge. She posted a $700 bond and Columbus decided eventually not to prosecute the case, although the charges still are on her record.
Wilkinson was serving mimosa drinks at her store during an open house after checking with the city to make sure she didn’t need a license as long as she wasn’t selling alcohol. A former disgruntled employee whose boyfriend was a police officer is alleged to have made the complaint.
The harassment has continued, even as she has tried to close her business, Wilkinson said Monday. Columbus has a strict “going out of business” ordinance to ensure business licenses are surrendered. Failure to comply with the ordinance even results in fines and penalties. Wilkinson said a deputy tax commissioner for the city showed up at the store last week and said she would have to prepay her taxes for 2013 because she is a “jeopardy tax assessment.” When she has contacted the city with specific questions about the going out of business ordinance, she has been told the city cannot help her since she has a lawyer.
“If it’s not just me, Columbus has a bigger problem if they treat all their business owners like this,” Wilkinson said.
After closing Formal Elegance, Wilkinson plans to write a book about her experience with the city and open her own firm specializing in political and non-profit fundraising.
Wilkinson has been on West Point City Council for 12 years.