Arlington, Va.—You would think that government officials in Pinal County, Ariz., would have better things to do with taxpayer money than spend thousands of dollars and create nearly 100 pages of legal documents trying to enforce a ban on outdoor dancing. But Pinal County continues to harass the father/son owners of San Tan Flat restaurant, located between Phoenix and Tucson, Ariz.
The entrepreneurs, however, have a new champion in their fight: actor/comedian Drew Carey, who has teamed up with the Reason Foundation’s video project “Reason.tv” to create a new online video featuring this example of grassroots tyranny. The six-plus minute video is available at: http://reason.tv/video/show/59.html.
All Dale Bell and his son, Spencer, want to do is run their popular restaurant. But Pinal County officials are trying yet another scheme to harass the business partners. Pinal County is demanding that Dale and Spencer act as the county’s “dance police,” stopping customers whenever they dare do-si-do outside to the restaurant’s live country and western music. The popular San Tan Flat steakhouse provides enjoyable live country music each weekend. Customers often dance to the music under the stars. County officials, however, are now saying that if a customer dances, that instantly transforms the restaurant into a “dance hall,” and dancing outdoors in a “dance hall” is strictly forbidden. The county is employing an obscure zoning ordinance to fine Bell as much as $200,000 a year unless he stops every two-step and waltz.
“We appreciate Drew Carey and Reason’s attention to our fight,” said Dale Bell. “All we need now is Kevin Bacon to give us a hand to end this Footloose 2008 nightmare. If my customers want to dance, they should be allowed to dance. There shouldn’t be a law against that.”
Shortly after San Tan Flat opened in 2005, Pinal County officials began imposing themselves on Dale. They forced him to reduce the number of entrances San Tan Flat had off the highway from four to one, restricted him from advertising with more than one sign and a government agent even made a special trip to scrutinize the restaurant’s firewood. Despite numerous attempts, the county could not find fault with San Tan Flat.
Government agents then started showing up three times a night to see if the steakhouse violated the county’s very restrictive noise ordinance—adopted after the steakhouse’s opening. Despite months of constant monitoring, San Tan Flat never once violated the noise regulation.
In October 2007, the Institute for Justice Arizona Chapter (IJ-AZ), which represents Dale for free in court, asked a Pinal County judge to reverse a ruling imposed by the Pinal County Board of Supervisors, which had ruled in May that Dale violated a county ban on operating an outdoor “dance hall” and therefore subjected him to as much as $200,000 a year in fines. After protecting Dale from the county’s punishing fines by imposing a stay of enforcement, Judge William O’Neil put Dale’s constitutional claims on hold while he first considers whether the county erred in applying the obscure zoning ordinance against Dale in the first place.
Jennifer Perkins, an IJ-AZ staff attorney, said, “Unfortunately, this is typical of the kind of petty harassment entrepreneurs nationwide must endure at the hands of government just to pursue an honest enterprise. It is wrong and the Institute for Justice seeks to stop it in Pinal County and anywhere small businesses are menaced by bureaucrats overstepping their authority.”
“This business is my dream and my son’s dream,” said Dale. “It is our American Dream. But Pinal County seems bent on making our entrepreneurial venture a nightmare. And that’s wrong. It is time the officials of Pinal County recognize that and stop this harassment.”
The county’s prohibition on dancing is not only hard to believe, it is unconstitutional. Dale has a constitutionally enshrined right to earn an honest living free from unreasonable government regulation. The Institute for Justice will ask the courts to protect Dale’s rights and see that Pinal County bureaucrats face the music by placing this persecution of outdoor dancing on trial.
“Because not all government officials can be trusted to restrain their power, our courts of law play a vital role in acting as a check against the abuse of our rights and IJ will be in court on behalf of Dale and Spencer to ensure their rights are respected and protected,” said Tim Keller, IJ-AZ’s executive director. “Pinal County is singling out San Tan Flat for arbitrary and individual harassment. IJ plans to put an end to that.”
Drew Carey’s effort is part of the Reason Foundation’s “The Drew Carey Project,” a series of video documentaries that takes a hard look at the variety of threats to our liberties—and celebrates what it really means to be free. Carey and the Reason.tv producers ask questions like, “Ever wonder what gives the government the power to just take away your family’s home? Ever worry that the medicine that keeps you alive might be declared illegal by the Feds? Ever think that the government doesn’t always know best?” For more information about Reason.tv, visit http://www.reason.tv/.