Texts shed light on drag show debate that led to the resignation of St. George’s city manager

Newly released documents reveal St. George’s leaders’ arguments over whether to allow a drag show this summer, an issue at the heart of the city manager who is being asked to resign. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

Estimated reading time: 6-7 minutes

ST. GEORGE — Newly released documents reveal St. George executives’ arguments about whether to allow a drag show this summer — an issue at the heart of the city manager who is being asked to step down, with an incitement from $625,000 to keep him from suing the city for breach of contract.

The event was part of HBO’s “We’re Here” drag show tour that visits small towns and cities across the United States, particularly in the South and Southwest. The episode shot in St. George on June 3 has yet to air on television.

What happened?

When St. George’s City Council learned that the city’s special events manager had approved the event to be held in the town square on Main Street – while City Manager Adam Lenhard had yet to issued the permit – city council members shared their disapproval of the text messages, which KSL.com received via a government records request.

Councilwoman Michelle Tanner asked what time of day the drag show would take place and whether there would be “legal protection to protect children as it is city property”. She compared the show to a “strip show” or a nudist club.

Lenhard noted in a response to Tanner’s questions that the show would hold a nightly rehearsal and the show would be at 9 p.m. on a Friday night.

“Unless the production violates a law, I believe their right to use the park is protected by the First Amendment. A private owner could exclude anyone for any reason, but the government cannot restrict his speech or expression on public property,” Lenhard wrote, adding that he was told that none of the drag show participants would be “naked or indecent.”

In the same text thread, Councilwoman Jimmie Hughes expressed concern about potential sexual innuendo that could be discussed during the drag show and asked if the park was the “appropriate public place” for it.

Councilwoman Dannielle Larkin suggested the production lock down the area if the performers planned to discuss topics that would be considered appropriate for adult audiences only, but “just let them film” if the content would be “OK for all audiences.” “.

She described drag as an expressive art and urged other leaders to keep it at the same level as they would any art form.

Mayor Michele Randall noted that the city’s special events coordinator approved the drag show and did not “violate” any of the boxes checked on the city’s application forms.

Randall then suggested that the text thread should “stop due to the possibility” of someone filing a request under the Access and Management of Government Records Act.

In a separate text chat between Tanner and Lenhard, Tanner said the “overwhelming majority” of members of the community “would agree that a drag show would be offensive and lacking in scientific values.” She said “sexuality” would be the show’s “entire theme”.

Tanner argued that the HBO show was about “coming to terms with their sexuality” and going into “conservative communities” to flaunt it. The councilor asked if the city is prepared for lawsuits from parents whose children are exposed to it.

Lenhard said the constitutional right to free speech would likely outweigh other arguments against holding the event. But he suggested potentially asking event organizers to put up a sign warning passers-by of mature content.

In further communications, Tanner said she believed the matter should be decided by city council rather than city staff and again questioned why an event of this nature had been approved without the contribution. elected officials.

Another incident — the St. George Police Department sharing a “Happy Pride” message of the month on social media — sparked widespread attention on the drag show among residents, St. George News reported. The post drew criticism from some residents and praise from others, and it was rumored that the drag show might be canceled.

The day before the show, members and advocates of the LGBTQ community filled city council chambers to advocate for the show to be allowed, the outlet reported.

The drag show takes place

The program’s producers applied to hold the event at the park on May 24 and received approval on May 31. The city issued a special event permit for the show on June 2, the day before the drag show.

City code states that applicants must submit their applications at least 45 days before the event. Tanner and others expressed concern that this deadline was not being met.

But city records show that several events over the past two years were approved within a day of a company or organization’s request, and some took several weeks to be approved.

Reasons a special event request may be denied, according to city code, include if the proposed special event “violates any law, ordinance, policy, procedure, or regulation or constitutes a hazard or threatens public health, safety, or welfare, or causes inconvenience or expense to the public.” The city may also deny special event permits if “the proposed special event does not comply nature and intended use of the requested municipal property”.

No specific circumstances or additional guidelines are detailed in the city code.

The city council eventually told Lenhard to cancel a permit that had been issued for the drag show, but Lenhard allowed the show to continue because he feared his cancellation would result in a discrimination lawsuit, St. GeorgeNews.

City manager resigns with settlement

The city council told Lenhard verbally that they wanted to remove him from office on July 14.

According to a confidential separation agreement, Lenhard believed he had a good faith basis for the legal claims against St. George and wanted to resign rather than be removed from office.

Although the city manager was an at-will employee, his contract with the city outlined the process the city would have to follow to terminate his employment as a political appointee. The city council agreed by majority vote to approve the separation agreement — which includes the amount Lenhard will receive — and it was signed by the mayor.

Outside attorneys advised the city to settle with Lenhard, rather than go to court, based on the terms of his contract.

“The city believes it is in its best interests to settle all legal claims (and) indemnify Lenhard” in exchange for his promise not to sue the city, the agreement states.

The agreement, signed by Lenhard and city leaders, prohibits city officials and employees with knowledge of the agreement from making “derogatory” comments about each other. If they do, Lenhard can demand $50,000 from the city for each event, and the city could demand the same amount from Lenhard.

Lenhard will receive $625,000 from the city on Jan. 13, 2023, of which $25,000 will come from the Utah Local Government Trust, and an additional $25,000 in severance pay.

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Ashley Imlay covers state politics and breaking news for KSL.com. A lifelong Utahn, Ashley also worked as a reporter for the Deseret News and is a graduate of Dixie State University.

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