KAYSVILLE — A showdown is looming over a proposed concert in Kaysville that’s meant as a protest of sorts against continued regulations aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus, seen as heavy-handed by some critics.
Organizers behind the show, to feature country singer Collin Raye, have withdrawn their request with Kaysville officials for a permit to hold the event, and Mayor Katie Witt, a supporter of the plans, says they don’t need one.
“You don’t need a permit to assemble peacefully,” said Witt, also a Republican candidate in the 1st District U.S. House race. “You don’t need a permit. The Constitution’s your permit.”
Kaysville City Manager Shayne Scott, though, said such an event — which has prompted a strong outpouring in the city since the plans came to public light on Thursday, May 14 — would require a permit. Through Witt, he understands the group, Utah Business Revival, is moving forward with its plans even without a permit, leaving city officials to figure out how to respond. The free event is scheduled for Saturday, May 30, from 6-10 p.m. and will be held at Barnes Park, according to a Utah Business Revival press release.
“If they hold the event without a permit, city staff will have to decide how to respond. It is my understanding if anyone wants to have an event and the permit for that event is either rejected or not obtained, that event would not be allowed and any event organizer or participant will be trespassing on city property,” Scott said in an email to the Standard-Examiner. Key among city police, parks officials and other city leaders in determining their response “will be the health and well-being of our staff and the residents of Kaysville.”
Meantime, three of five members of the Kaysville City Council, Michelle Barber, Tamara Tran and Andre Lortz, expressed a measure of opposition to the plans, worried in part that it could set back social distancing measures that have so far seemingly limited the spread of the coronavirus. And more debate’s coming — three measures stemming from the plans will come up for consideration by the City Council at its meeting on Thursday, including a resolution voicing opposition to the Utah Business Revival plans.
“It’s an illegal event; it’s not sponsored by the city. I’m worried about liability,” said Tran. “It’s just a mess.”
Lortz noted concerns expressed to him by city residents as well as the lack of a clear proposal by Utah Business Resolution outlining how it plans to stage and manage the event.
“Unless I can see there’s a good plan, I’m not going to be supportive,” Lortz said. Residents, he said, have expressed “a lot of fear,” worried such an event could spur a resurgence in COVID-19 cases.
Barber said she’s a fan of Raye’s music and backs reopening of the economy, a key aim of event organizers, but she opposes the proposed concert. She also bristled at Witt’s involvement and charges that as a U.S. House candidate, she’s “politicizing” the event.
“I do not support defying public health guidelines and inviting a huge amount of people to our city,” Barber said in a Facebook post.
Aside from the proposed proclamation “disavowing support for the Utah Business Revival” concert, the City Council will also take up a measure putting a temporary moratorium on issuing permits for special events. “Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the parks department has not hired seasonal staff in the way they normally do. Further, the state and county have issued directives and orders limiting mass gatherings,” reads the summary of the proposed moratorium.
The third agenda item on the matter calls for discussion about granting a noise exemption for the May 30 event. City staffers understand from event organizers that the concert will feature amplified music, which would necessitate such an exemption.
‘FEAR OR FREEDOM?’
For Witt, her support of the event is more about countering what she sees as an assault on basic freedoms via the restrictions put forward by state leaders and public health officials to curb the coronavirus’s spread. The guidelines limit large gatherings and have also restricted how some businesses may operate, causing job losses and an economic downturn.
“For me, this is a simple decision because this is a Constitutional rights issue,” she said, alluding to U.S. Constitutional protections on free speech and assembly. “It’s freedom of assembly.”
She rebuffed suggestions her involvement stems from political considerations, saying the constitutional issue at stake “is a core value for me.” The Republican is one of six hopefuls in the U.S. House race, four GOPers and two Democrats. She also downplayed public health concerns posed by the concert.
“I say this is just as safe as people going to grocery stores or home improvement stores. It will be just as safe,” she said. “We went too far, too long and it’s time to stop hiding under the bed. ... This is the time for choosing. Are you going to choose fear or freedom?”
Eric Moutsos, head of Utah Business Revival, said three earlier events sponsored by the group, two in Salt Lake City and another in Vineyard, similarly took place without permits. The Vineyard event drew upwards of 5,000 people while one of the Salt Lake City events drew around 3,000 people. Neither, he maintains, caused an uptick in COVID-19 cases.
“We can have these big events and there’s no spike. That’s why it’s so important we do this,” he said.