Written by Josh Warburton

The long-standing joke that southern Utah is the real-world “Footloose” continues to be fueled by the St. George Police Department’s unnecessary stoking of flames through selective heavy enforcement on Friday.

Breaking up the party

You may have read that over the weekend, the dance component of a Halloween-themed party at the Fiesta Fun arcade was shut down. That’s right, officers showed up at the event and the management subsequently announced over loudspeakers that there would be “no dancing.” Nothin’ says party like a group of five or six cops standing around watching, filming, and presumably threatening your arrest.

Can you guess what happened next? Yup, people started leaving, and word spread through the community that the party was over. Sure, the promoter should have known that St. George requires city council approval for any dance event, and I’m not sure I buy the story that there was an amended application, but regardless, this whole approach seems a bit heavy-handed in the land of the Tea Party and the home of the small-government rave. (See what I did there?)

If you claim to support a hands-off, personal (property) rights approach to government, what could be more hands-on than being hand-cuffed for simply moving your body to a rhythm? It makes me wonder, while the ordinance applies to the establishments, would they have arrested these kids if they’d disobeyed what was clearly a direct order from the police, who were visible at the time of the announcement? I’m sure some of those kids thought so. At that age, I would have.

The city claims it was simply ensuring that the allowances for the licensed event were within the bounds of that specific permit. If, as reported in The Spectrum, the application for the event was only obtained the week before the event, I can understand the city wanting to make sure it was well understood what it was permitting. However, it seems some other solution could have likely been reached that would have not destroyed the promoter’s business for that night. If the city believed, and maybe saw advertising for, the dance as part of the event, couldn’t they have reached out to the promoter to clarify rather than send a troop of officers to break up the party 45 minutes in?

Here’s what I want to know: Who was the complainant that instigated the police visit to the Fiesta Fun Center in the first place? Who alerted them and when? Because, if you think about it, it seems unlikely that a neighbor would have called complaining about the “dance” happening, at a permitted event – at a business open in that location for decades.

I’m guessing that someone at the city office made that call, both figuratively and literally. Was it the police department? Licensing? City management? I don’t know, but I’m not sure it matters, because the fact is it was someone at the city.

A little history

The way it went down is reminiscent of the story of Gogo37, which I co-owned for the second half of its existence, ending in June 2012.

I was asked to try to help revitalize the dwindling business of the downtown St. George music venue after many months of difficulties following an incident one night there. Apparently, a fight had broken out between two patrons, and when the officers arrived to deal with the brawlers, they also boldly instructed the patrons and management that there would be “no dancing.” Sound familiar? When word spread through town that no dancing was permitted at the performance venue, attendance dropped off dramatically. My recollection is that it was basically half of what it had previously been, effectively killing a business already operating on thin margins.

Bet you’ll vote next time, hippie!

So what’s with the Tara Dunn reference in the headline? Because voting matters. Some of you may know that Tara Dunn ran, and was nearly elected, last year to the St. George City Council, and I was her campaign manager. As one of the many points in her campaign, she talked about just how ridiculous the current dance hall ordinance is, and pledged to make it a point to work to change it, if elected. Although the election was decided by less barely a single percentage point, she was not elected, and that ordinance is still on the books today.

Sure, she would not have been able to single-handedly change the ordinance, but I firmly believe that she would have made sure it was on the agenda as soon as possible to discuss, something neither of the two newly elected officials nor the appointed one, nor the new mayor, have done in nearly a year.

So then, maybe the question is why? Why don’t they want to change it?

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