The Kaysville City Council — in a revolt against Mayor Katie Witt — was considering turning on sprinklers and cutting power to a city park to stop a protest concert she backed there that openly aimed to defy state COVID-19 restrictions.
Word about these possible city actions was enough Thursday to chase away the May 30 concert — featuring country star Collin Raye — which now will move to the Studio Ranch Amphitheater near Grantsville.
“The city of Kaysville is really, really confused internally,” concert organizer Eric Moutsos said in explaining the decision to move. “We were invited by the mayor. The City Council knew, and now they’re wanting to turn sprinklers on us to ruin our equipment.”
Moutsos — who has led several protests around the state against virus restrictions — provided a copy of a draft news release given to him (which Witt confirmed was genuine) that warned the city would use sprinklers, cut power, lock parking gates and seek both criminal and civil legal action against anyone responsible for the concert.
“It was a direct threat,” Moutsos said. “What I want to do now is have our next rally in our swimsuits in Kaysville’s Barnes Park because it’s absolutely ridiculous that the City Council did what it did to the people of Kaysville and Mayor Witt, and they should be ashamed.”
But council members say most residents were furious at the attempt by the mayor — who is also running for Congress — to help concert organizers hold a large event that openly defied COVID-19 restrictions.
The council held a special hourlong comment period online Thursday evening where a long parade of residents criticized Witt and the concert, and only one resident praised the concert.
Brandon Barendt presented a petition from 2,600 residents who had opposed the concert. Mike Flood presented another petition calling on Witt to resign or be removed by the council.
Camille Price told Witt, “Wasting time accommodating and defending extremist outsiders who want to exploit our community to potentially disastrous events clearly shows your priorities are not currently aligned with the needs and wishes of your constituency.”
Council members later in the evening voted 5-0 to pass a resolution denouncing the concert and the mayor’s actions to support it. Witt then apologized to the council for not involving it more closely in events and said, “I did not misspend funds. ... I did not do anything illegal. But I did hurt your feelings.”
During the past week, Witt, a Republican, also was attacked by rival candidates in that race for what they said was political grandstanding that put her city’s residents in real danger. The left-leaning Alliance for a Better Utah and Woods Cross Republican Sen. Todd Weiler called for her resignation as mayor.
“It’s wonderful news that they’ve decided not to come to Kaysville, but also my heart goes out to the folks in Grantsville who are now going to be faced with the same issue,” said Kaysville City Councilman John Swan Adams.
He and other council members have said the mayor misled them about the event, portraying it initially as a small protest instead of a big concert with a big star — Raye has 16 No. 1 country hits. They were unhappy when Witt openly advocated defying COVID-19 restrictions.
“They have every right to be out there with megaphones and signs,” Adams said. “But throwing a concert with food and trucks and live music has nothing to do with that [protesting]. I’m glad the circus isn’t coming to Kaysville.”
Andre Lortz, another council member, said, “It’s going to be a relief to our residents. Overwhelmingly, there is concern about holding the event, especially when they found out there’s no permit, and there was no plan for how this was going to be managed.”
Asked about the council’s consideration of using sprinklers and cutting power at the park, Lortz said, “City staff had said here are possibilities for action that could be taken. … It was to be discussed what actions would be appropriate.”
Witt said the fight in Kaysville shows in miniature the national debate of "freedom vs. fear. That’s what made this explode because there are so many strong feelings. So I think it was important to take a stand. I don’t regret taking that stand.”
She added, “This was all about standing up for the right of peaceful assembly. ... I would have done this if I were running for Congress or not. It’s core to who I am.” She is in a four-way GOP primary race for the 1st Congressional District seat held by retiring nine-term Rep. Rob Bishop. Others include Davis County Commissioner Bob Stevenson, businessman Blake Moore and former Weber County Commissioner Kerry Gibson.
Witt said she is happy the event will be at a larger venue with willing landowners. Moutsos said the Studio Ranch Amphitheater has a capacity of 10,000 people.
He acknowledges that a large gathering there will “absolutely” violate current COVID-19 restrictions. “The government and health departments may have overstepped their bound big time. … So it’s up to us as the American people to push back against that pressure.”
Moutsos said his Utah Business Revival group has signed up 300 businesses that will set up booths at the event. “The whole point is to save businesses that are dying.”
His group has held other rallies and events to call for removal of all COVID-19 restrictions, including one at Salt Lake City Hall that attracted about 1,000 people.
“We’ve had zero spikes with COVID with thousands at our events so I’m not worried about safety at all,” Moutsos said. “I think we’re going to be safer than Walmart and Costco. The reason why is because at Walmart and Costco, people are coming right up next to you, and touch merchandise like a tomato and then put it back down.”
He said people will be urged to use safe social distancing, and “we will not make fun of people who are wearing masks.”
The Tooele County Health Department issued a written statement, saying it has not received a permit application for the event, which is required for any mass gathering with more than 1,000 people.
The health department said it is “very concerned about the lack of permitting for this event. Our greatest concern is for the health and safety of our citizens. After an event is held without a permit, it is possible for the health department to file charges against the property owner for allowing an unpermitted event to take place. ... We do not want to see a spike in COVID-19 cases come from an unapproved event like this.”
Raye has not responded to requests for comment about his appearance at the concert amid the political fights about it. Moutsos said Raye is still coming and is still excited about it.
“He has the same vision that we do: We have to get open. We can’t wait,” Moutsos said. “We want to show the world that we can do it, we can do it safely, and we can do it respectfully. And the people who don’t want to do it — stay home, stay safe.”