ST. GEORGE – In the 1984 movie “Footloose,” actor Kevin Bacon portrays Ren McCormick, a young man who finds himself in a town that has banned dancing. During a scene in the movie, McCormick stands before the town council and uses verses from the Bible to support his stance against the town’s anti-dance law.
“There is a time to every purpose under heaven,” Bacon’s character said, quoting the Bible. “A time to laugh, a time to weep. A time to mourn, and there is a time to dance.”
Unlike the small town featured in “Footloose,” St. George does not have any so-called anti-dance ordinances, though critics may argue otherwise.
As Bacon’s character said, “there is a time for every purpose.” For special event applications for activities like outdoor dances and concerts, or activities seen beyond the normal and allowable scope of a business license and/or zoning, the City of St. George has made that application time at least 30 days before the activity takes place.
The city’s permit procedure for special events has come under fire across social media since news about an incident surrounding the Heart of Dixie Events LLC’s quashed Monster Mash dance party broke. If there is indeed “a time for every purpose,” supporters of Heart of Dixie say it’s time for the city to revisit how it handles permitting events.
Monster Mash rehash
On Sunday, St. George News reported the incident that took place at Fiesta Fun Friday night involving the “Monster Mash,” a Halloween party promoted by Heart of Dixie, and intervention by the St. George Police.
Police arrived shortly after the event began and told the Heart of Dixie representative Jared Keddington they were there to make sure there was no dancing, and that Heart of Dixie was potentially in violation of its permit. Keddington then produced a permit from the city, a copy of which is attached to this report, and argued the dance portion of the party had been approved.
“Someone approved (the permit),” he said. “I don’t know if it was the City Council, but obviously somebody did.”
Despite his arguments, police soon showed Keddington a copy of the original application that had been amended in parts by SGPD Capt. Scott Staley; a copy of the amended permit is also attached to this report. The amendments were a condition of the permit’s approval and disallowed any dancing or amplified dance music. Keddington also said the police threatened to arrest him if anyone started dancing or gave the officers grief.
“It’s Footloose,” he said. “This is Footloose.”
St. George spoke to Keddington Monday about the incident and his account largely echoes the observations of Karlee Jarvis, a Heart of Dixie security supervisor, and Brett Crockett, owner of Fiesta Fun.
Days before the Mash
Marc Mortensen, assistant to the city manager, said the city had no knowledge about the Monster Mash until four days before it was to be held. According to city documents obtained by St. George News, a St. George Police officer came across the event via social media and informed SGPD Capt. Scott Staley about it.
In an email to St. George Police Chief Marlon Stratton written on Oct. 21, Staley wrote that he met with the owner of Fiesta Fun and learned acquiring the proper permits for the Monster Mash had been left to Heart of Dixie promoters. Staley then contacted Keddington and said he couldn’t hold a dance at Fiesta Fun, as it wasn’t a use permitted under Fiesta Fun’s business license and that he’d need a permit.
According to the email, Staley said, “I explained to (Keddington) numerous times why the permit was required, but to no avail.”
Still, Keddington was encouraged to submit an application, which he did the following day.
Mortensen previously said the reason the city requires permits to be handed in 30 days before an event is so the city department and associated third parties, like the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, have adequate time to review it. A final decision for approval is then put before the City Council. Getting council approval for the dance on short notice wasn’t a possibility since the council didn’t meet that week, Mortensen said.
Emails went back and forth between Keddington and city staff for the next two days. On Thursday Keddington received an email from Bill Swensen, the city’s special events coordinator, again telling him there could be no dancing.
“The dance and music portion of your event cannot occur without the prior approval of the St. George City Council. This portion of your event will not be permitted,” Swensen wrote in the email. Other events that were within the norm of Fiesta Fun’s approved purview were allowed.
“If everything happening at the event was in the norm of what Fiesta Fun does, why would we need a permit?” Keddington said.
After receiving the email, Keddington said, he tried to contact City Attorney Shaun Guzman and was in turn contacted by Deputy City Attorney Paula Houston.
He said he told Houston that he felt the city was being discriminatory. He also said he argued it was a constitutional right to dance. Houston told him he still needed a permit, Keddington said.
Staley wrote in his Oct. 21 email to Stratton that Keddington had said the same to him.
Keddington asked Houston to try and get the permit through. His company would lose thousands of dollars if the Monster Mash didn’t happen, he said.
“They pushed it though,” he said. “They got it done and Friday we picked it up.”
While Keddington maintains the permit allowed a dance, Staley and other city staff apparently had a different understanding.
In an email to the police chief sent out Friday afternoon, Staley wrote that Heart of Dixie promoters had agreed to amend their permit so it wouldn’t include any potential for dancing.
“The event will NOT have a dance and will not have amplified dance music.” Staley wrote.
Note: Copies of the application/permit documents and correspondence given to St. George News courtesy of Heart of Dixie and the City of St. George can be seen full-size at the end of this report.
Monster Mash crashed: Misunderstanding or willful disregard?
Mortensen has said repeatedly that the city has no problem with people dancing. This is a matter of following permit procedure.
“This was a lack of planning on the part of the promoter,” he said.
Still, city staff did what it could for Keddington and issued him a permit for everything except dancing.
“We still issued him a permit to try and help him out,” Mortensen said, “but he did not hold authorization to hold a dance.”
According to Heart of Dixie’s event permit, it was estimated that between 600-1,000 people would be attending the event. Mortensen later told Fox13 News that the number could have become greater as news of the dance spread over social media. The resulting flood of people could have overwhelmed the area and caused potential problems city officials felt were best avoided.
Friday night the Monster Mash got under way and individuals 18 and up began to arrive in costumes for the party. Soon after the police arrived to make sure no one was dancing. Keddington said they threatened to cite him and the DJ for creating an atmosphere that could promote dancing and thus put him in violation of his permit.
“I told them, ‘Well, I actually have a permit that was issued by the city this morning that has ‘dance’ and ‘fun’ checked on it, and a big stamp of approval on it,’” Keddington said.
He said he had gone through the permitting process and was approved. However, Staley arrived and showed him the rest of the application. On it were both typed and handwritten notes made by Staley that amended away any possibility of a dance that night.
“I don’t care if they did this or not,” Keddington said about the amended permit. “They can sit in their office behind closed doors and they can make adjustments to it all they want. We didn’t see it, we didn’t sign it, we didn’t initial it, we didn’t agree to it.”
Keddington said he believes the city violated the permit and also violated his civil rights. “It’s not a crime to dance,” he said.
Mortensen contends Keddington knew ahead of time about the permitting process and wasn’t ignorant of it. Keddington said he hasn’t had to get a special event permit for events, and he’s promoted many events in Southern Utah. The only exception has been Sand Hollow State Park, he said.
Staley also alleged Keddington knew about the process.
“I also told him that I had a conversation with him about a year ago explaining the process,” Staley wrote in the Oct. 21 email. He also wrote that he told Keddington it seemed like he was trying to circumvent the application process.
Swenson said he met with Keddington around two months ago. They discussed special events and the application process in general, but only generally. The topic of dances never came up, he said.
“We’re not against events,” Mortensen said. “We’re an events city. We have events nearly every weekend. We just asked they come into compliance.”
In the wake of the attention given the Monster Mash incident, Mortensen said the City Council will be revisiting how the city ordinance governing special application and procedure is written. It is an ordinance Keddington said the city never gave him a direct reference to. The only ordinance he said he found relating to dancing was the city’s often maligned ordinance that deals with dance hall permitting.
The ordinance cited by the city in this case is 10-14-19: Temporary Outdoor Events. It is featured below:
Temporary outdoor events (i.e., promotions, tent sales, exhibits, carnivals, concerts, etc.) may be permitted by the city council or a designated representative on property zoned commercial, including the planned development commercial zones, for a period not to exceed six (6) continuous days within a six (6) month period. This time limit applies to all local and out of town businesses and all commercial locations within the city. Special exceptions to the time limit may be granted by the city council on a case by case basis. Temporary outdoor events to be held on public property also require review and approval by the city council or a designated representative. Applicants shall submit adequate plans and information for the city to determine that the events will not interfere with the safety and general welfare of the community, nor violate any zoning, parking, licensing or other requirement or ordinance of the city. Required licenses, permits and special clearances shall be obtained prior to any event taking place. (1998 Document § 3-20)
The special events application is a five-page document that can be found on the City of St. George website. Mortensen said it is common for the city to return only the first page of the application along with an attached business lisence/permit to the applicant once the event is approved. The city keeps the remaining four pages of the original document on which city staff may have made notes concerning parts of the submitted application.
He said the city staff were not the ones that checked “dance” and “fun” on the permit, but that those were elements of the event originally checked and submitted by the Heart of Dixie. While the front page showing those checked boxes has a stamp of approval on it from the city, the remaining pages later shown to Keddington by Staley showed where the police captain amended the original application in order to prevent any dancing.
Keddington maintains the city approved the dancing as shown on the permit he originally received, while the city still says otherwise.
Ed. Note: Elements highlighted in blue were added by St. George News. Other elements have also been crossed out in black to protect the privacy of individuals involved in the incident. Heart of Dixie Events LLC is a registered Utah Limited Liability Company.
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