St. George tells city manager to ‘sashay away’ over drag show approval

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A group of ultra-conservative city residents and leaders were successful in ousting St. George City manager Adam Lenhard from his position over his refusal to reject an application to hold a drag show to be recorded for HBO’s “We’re Here.” In his announcement in early October, Lenhard said he was leaving “to pursue other opportunities.” Recent revelations, however, show that he was pushed from his position in a hastily called “emergency closed-door meeting.”

The Salt Lake Tribune received an anonymous 5-page letter written with details of the closed-door meeting where the council negotiated a 6-figure settlement to have Lenhard leave his position on Nov. 1.

The brouhaha started May 25, when “We’re Here” producers Buckingham TV turned in a special event permit application for the June 2–3 event. St. George has a requirement that permits must give 45 days’ notice before the event, but that requirement is almost always waived. The city manager instructed city staff to approve the application.

City staff drew up a rental agreement on Thursday, May 26, for all parties to sign. That night, Councilwoman Michelle Tanner went after Lenhard on her Facebook page.

“WE THE PEOPLE should be running this city, NOT unelected bureaucrats. WE THE PEOPLE elect a legislative body to represent us,” Tanner wrote. “I do not trust any staff member who wouldn’t look at a permit application for an HBO TV-MA rated production being held at a children’s venue and think to themselves “hmm rather than revising contracts, breaking ordinances, and pushing this through in record time, maybe this should be a decision for ELECTED REPRESENTATIVES OF WE THE PEOPLE to make.”

An emergency closed-door meeting was held Friday, May 27 at 9:40 p.m., where Lenhard was ordered to cancel the permit for the show.

The next day, Saturday, May 28 (the beginning of Memorial Day Weekend), Lenhard emailed the members of the city council. The email was made public by Tanner-supporter Dana McCabe on her Facebook wall, which she shared with a number of ultra-conservative groups through Facebook.

“I was unable to fulfill the assignment given to me last night to cancel the rental agreement with the production crew behind the “We’re Here” HBO television show,” Lenhard wrote. “I realize that allowing this event to take place on City property may generate criticism from some members of our community. This is a tough spot to be in.”

Lenhard wrote that the crew had a First Amendment right to use Town Square Park and that it would be discriminatory to deny the permit.

“I cannot knowingly act in a way that could bring liability to our organization, nor can I ask my staff to do it,” he continued. “It would violate my professional commitments to protect the rights of all members of our community.”

The show went on, drawing around 2,000 people who started filling the park at 6 p.m. for the 9 p.m. start. An anonymous email was sent the day of the show, stating, “I hope things like this become mass casualty events because that’s what it’s going to take to purge this sickness. Keep pushing your perversions.” A call to police said that “100 drag queens” in masks showed up in buses and were chasing kids at the park.

Controversy continued after the event was packed and headed to the next town. St. George citizens were calling for Lenhard to resign over the “fast-track” he and his staff approved the event permit. Comments on McCabe’s Facebook wall said that people told Lenhard “to his face” to resign, to which he told them he would not.

On July 14, at the end of a regularly scheduled city council meeting, Councilmember Jimmie Hughes made a motion to adjourn to a closed session to “discuss character and professional competence or physical or mental health of an individual and potential litigation.”

During that meeting, Mayor Michele Randall asked for a non-binding vote to see where the councilmembers were on Lenhard’s continued employment. The council voted in favor of asking him to leave.

What followed was an investigation into whether Lenhard could sue the city, and whether Lenhard would prevail if he did so. A mediator drafted a settlement letter that would allow Lenhard to resign rather than be fired.

In the council’s regular Sept. 1 meeting, an item on the agenda with no description, titled, “Consider approval of a Confidential Settlement Agreement,” was voted on and passed with a 4–1 vote, with Tanner voting no.

In early October, Lenhard announced he would leave his $275,000 job on Nov. 1 “to pursue other opportunities.”

“I love St. George. This is a world-class city,” he said during a goodbye speech in his last city council meeting. He said he would stay in St. George and was looking forward to some “fun opportunities.”

“The City wishes Mr. Lenhard all the best in his future endeavors and would like to publicly thank him for the service he has provided the City over the past four and a half years,” a joint release from the mayor and city council read. 

Tanner has made at least three separate statements saying she’s not homophobic or even against drag queens, because she has a gay brother and a friend who does drag.

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