St. George City Special Event Permits-Dancing

Recent I had a short online discussion with a reporter from a local media source.  I accused him of misrepresenting the facts in certain news stories.  Naturally he objected to my characterization and demand I give evidence.

I gave evidence which he, to his credit, readily acknowledged.  He then suggested he would make changes to his story.  Regrettably, the proposed changes which he suggested he would make were equally flawed.

The entire incident incited me to do the research which the agitators either refused, were incapable of, or were too discourteous to perform.  The following is an in-depth assessment of the facts behind the comedy of inflamed agitation generated by an intended bias.

Portions of the local media instigated and perpetuated, even following factual information from city officials, the idea that St. George had an anti-dance ordinance.  They repeatedly incited community irritation by not altering their representation of the situation which transpired.










  1. St. George City has an ordinance which governs special event licensing.  That ordinance is Article A, Section 3-2A-1:

“Any individual or group putting on performances, exhibitions, concerts or other entertainment activities for which a fee is charged, either to the public or to the hiring entity, including, but not limited to, musical aggregations, circuses, carnivals, rodeos, fight promoters, racing promoters, displays and exhibitions, live shows and entertainers of any kind, shall obtain a license. (2003).”

It is worth noting that this ordinance was adopted over ten years ago and is not the result of action by the current City Council Members, whom often come under unwarranted attacks.

It is worth further note that this ordinance does not specify “dancing”, although dancing may be presumed.  ( “other entertainment activities for which a fee is charged”, and “live shows and entertainers of any kind, shall obtain a license.”)

Now in fairness it is necessary to point out section 3-2A-4 addresses “Dance Halls.”  ( 3-2A-4: PUBLIC DANCE HALLS:). The event in question does not constitute a “Dance Hall” and therefore not applicable to this particular situation.

  1. The code articulates in 3-2a-1 B. Exemptions:

“No fee shall be required for the license issued to any person or group in this category which is raising funds exclusively for religious or charitable purposes. (2003 Code)”

Any religion, not solely the predominant religion of the area, may hold a dance to raise funds.  The same applies for charitable causes.  The event in question did not constitute either a charitable cause or religious fund-raiser.

  1. Concerning the issuing of a permit the code requires “issuance of such business license needs to satisfy the license officer that the said location complies with all applicable laws and meets those standards of public health, safety and general welfare which are deemed necessary in light of the potential number of spectators and type of performance.” ( italicized word added for clarity).

As a result of this ordinance the City established administrative procedures.  Among those procedures are application forms, timelines and approval processes.

  1. Section 3-2A is not the exclusive ordinance governing such events.  Section 10-14-19: TEMPORARY OUTDOOR EVENTS also is key factor in this “dance” issue.

“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.”

It is important to recognize that this ordinance (originating in the current code in 1998) effects several factors.  Consider the following salient points:

  1. Temporary outdoor events are zone specific.  Thus both private and public property are affected by this ordinance.
  2. Either the City Council or the council’s designee may conduct the review and approval of the permits.  The prior members of the City council (not inclusive of Bette Arial, Joe Bowcutt, and Michelle Randall) made the decision that the City Council itself would review and approve temporary outdoor events.
  3. The applicant is required to submit an application that is sufficient to provide the city with adequate information to determine the whether the general public interest will be met rather than just the interest of the applicant.  That includes a range of public safety issues.

In compliance with these ordinances specific administrative procedures have been put into place.  Those procedures are intended to be fair and equitable.  Some may view them as arbitrary and capricious.  That will be addressed later in this post.

Following is the process required by all applicants for a special event permit, regardless of what the specific event may be.

Special Event Application Process

  1. The event applicant must submit a Special Event Application to the Special Event Coordinator (SEC).

The Special Event Application can be retrieved from the city’s website, or can be picked up at the city office, 175 East 200 North, St George, UT.

  1. Reservation of City parks will be coordinated with a Parks Division representative and will research the proposed dates/times of park facility schedule to prevent conflicts with sports and other activities. Please allow at least 5 business days for this process.
  2. A Parks Department representative will approve location/date and create an reservation contract.
  3. SEC will review the application and determine if the event is “Committee Review” or “Non Committee Review”
  4. Committee Review: The Special Event Review Committee (SERC) must review the application and meet with the applicant during a SERC meeting. Meetings are held the first Tuesday of each month. The agenda is prepared by the SEC.
  5. Non Committee Review: The SEC reviews the application. SEC will contact the applicant and inform them of which review process will be required.
  6. Permit fees are paid at the City of St George Office. Parks reservation fees are paid at the Parks Division Millcreek Facility, 390 North 3050 East, St George, UT.

(blue highlighted sentences are not applicable to this event).

Of the foregoing information the temporary outdoor events permit is the most relevant.  I will emphasized, so it is not lost in an abundance of information, that the Dance Hall component of 3-2A-4 is not applicable to the issue.

  1. Initially no application under ordinance 10-14-19 was submitted to the city, until after the city contacted the promoter of the event.  On the application instructions it clearly stipulates that applications are requested 30 days prior to the event.  The city initiated contact with the promoter on October 21, 2014.

Consequently the application for this special event was received by the city on Tuesday October 21, 2014.  Subsequently, the permit fee was paid on Friday October 24, 2014, three days later.  October 24 was the date the event was to occur.  The event application included “rides, games, a costume contest, and a dance.”

  1. On October 22 Deputy City Attorney, Paula Houston, advised the city attorney, Shawn Guzman, that she had spoken with the promoter and “he says they have cancelled the dance.”
  2. On October 23 the special events coordinator, Bill Swensen, advise the promoter in writing of conditions which must be met.  Those conditions were:
  3. No dance without city council approval.
  4. A parking plan to accommodate the number of expected people.
  5. Approval of the health department (a non-city entity). {This was received}.
  6. Tax ID information for those collecting the revenue.

The promoter was concurrently advised that Captain Staley of the Police Department may have additional requirements after his review of the security plan for the event.

Finally, on October 24, 2014, six hours prior to the proposed start of the event,  Captain Staley advised the Police Chief, Marlon Stratton, that the promoters “have amended their proposed event,” and, “the event will not have a dance.”

  1. In violation of the terms of the permit, and assurances by the promoter, they proceeded with the dance.
  2. The police department responded to the event and closed down the dance, in compliance with the permit.

Dance with demons

Assessment 1

My investigation into 12 other Utah cities revealed the existence of similar ordinances.  This is not        isolated to the Cities within Utah.  My investigation  into the municipal codes of cities in Arizona, Colorado, and California revealed similar ordinances in those locales.

Requirements  for special event permits locally, statewide, and regionally are not unusual, and appear to be common place.  Such permits fall under the categories of transient business permits (licenses) or equivalent nomenclature.  Within the remainder of this post I shall call them “single short-use permits”.

The city closest to where the event was held in St. George, Santa Clara, has an ordinance with requirements equal to or more extensive than St. George.

The time frame requirements for the issuance of single short-use permits in the studied municipalities varies between 14 to 60 day for processing.  St. George is mid-point in that range.  However, in this instance, numerous communications and suggestions were made by the Special Events Coordinator to assist the developer, in a spirit of cooperation.  The entire process that requests 30 days processing time was condensed into three days by city personnel.  Apparently the old adage “no good deed goes unpunished” is applicable in this case.

Assessment 1 summary

St. George is not unique among cities regarding single short-use permits, including dances.  In this particular incidence the city acted significantly quicker than the expectations in other communities.

Assessment 2

Neither the city council nor city staff acted in a manner which reflected a discriminatory course outside of the purposes of the 2003 municipal Code and decisions of prior members of the City Council.

Further, nothing in the code suggests any obtuse rejection of dancing.  The only sensitivity in the code is toward a safe, and to the best means possible, avoidance of liability.  To the extent that some argue police time and resources were a waste of money,  the immediately obvious retort is that had some injurious incident occurred as a result of the dance the city would experience far greater cost in lawsuits for knowingly not enforcing its own ordinances.

The city police department acted in a manner consistent with their mandate to administer the laws of the city and state.

Assessment 2 summary

The city acted expeditiously and prudently in the issuing of the special event permit, and the subsequent enforce thereof.

Assessment 3

Other municipalities have similar code sections which provide a single short-use permit in a more specific manner.  From my perspective the St. George municipal code could and should be revised to eliminate those areas that currently appear to allow for arbitrary issuance in the eyes of some people.

Public input into code revisions should be invited, with a committee assigned to provide recommendations to the City Council no later January 22, 2015, specific to clarifying these ordinances.  The committee could be a body of citizens appointed by the council, and  selected from among applicants with interest.  The Mayor should also choose a chairperson for the committee at his discretion.  The city attorney and special events coordinator should be available upon request to assist the committee with technical and legal advice.

Assessment 3 summary

The City Council should act now to move toward potential amendments to the municipal code, with community cooperation.


The issuance of a special event permit in St. George City has been unnecessarily sensationalized.  That sensationalism has generated both confusion and animosity among the citizens.

It can be tempered by the facts being presented, coupled with the city council acting to immediately seek out the public’s input.

This post has sought to diligently, and hopefully with minor levels of personal bias, present facts rather than the common place hyperbolic  rhetoric.  The “funny” aspect of this issue that generated national lampooning has passed.  Now is the time for serious people, serious work, and serious solutions.  I have confidence that is what we will get from the City Council, City staff, and citizenry.

That Is The Way I See It.





4 thoughts on “St. George City Special Event Permits-Dancing

  1. Well said. I’ve noticed from following local postings on social media that the residents of St. George(and probably many other cities) are very quick to band together on a crusade against whatever target is being vilified in the news. Whether it be April Suwyn, Mormons, old people, young people, etc. Some don’t even read the article, but would rather hurry to show the rest of the city how zealous they are for social justice. Unyielding, refusing to understand, and often misguided. It’s so hard to read the comments on any of the local news outlets anymore.

  2. I assume you saw that in addition to making it onto the national news, St George made it into a skit on the last “Saturday Night Live”. Several of my friends from around the country called to offer their congratulations!

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