Gov. Asa Hutchinson may have his “resolution” between the state and a concert promoter in Fort Smith who was pushing an event three days before a state directive allowed, but the issue may not be over.
Lance Beaty, owner of Beaty Capital Group which owns and manages TempleLive, decided Thursday (May 14) to comply with Arkansas’ cease and desist order mandating he cancel a May 15 concert at his TempleLive venue in downtown Fort Smith. The May 15 date was three days ahead of a May 18 state directive allowing indoor events. Beaty said the event is being rescheduled to May 18.
Arkansas Secretary of Health Dr. Nate Smith sent a 4-page cease and desist order Tuesday to TempleLive suggesting Beaty and others could face “administrative penalties, a civil or criminal fine or imprisonment, if convicted, or all of the above.”
Gov. Hutchinson said the TempleLive decision was the “right thing.”
“We’re delighted that Monday, assuming their health plan can be approved by the Department of Health and there are security measures there, then that concert can proceed, and we’re delighted to welcome the concertgoers there to that venue. We are pleased that we have that resolution and the concert promoter recognized the need to follow the directive of the Department of Health,” the governor said.
Beaty reiterated Thursday his stance that the concert date was not set to flout the directive. He said officials and attorneys with TempleLive were “attempting to exercise our right to disagree” when he said the state suddenly disengaged from civil conversation and issued a cease and desist order without any warning.
“This show was done and announced, I believe, the 22nd of April. The governor said that he was going to announce large venues and churches on May 4. It was our expectations that venues and churches were congregant gatherings, and I don’t see how you can say you can do something two blocks up the street, but you can’t do it in this beautiful theater with more stringent protocols,” Beaty said.
John Scott, a partner with the Connor and Winters law firm who is representing TempleLive, expanded upon Beaty’s assertion that the state decision was arbitrary.
“While some civil liberties may be violated in a time of emergency, they [violations] can’t be protectional. They can’t be arbitrary. They have to have some basis in data, some basis in medical science. We’ve not received any medical data or science or a study that this event as proposed would cause one ounce more danger to the society than what we see going on at restaurants, than what we see going on at churches, in gyms, at Lowes, at Kroger grocery stores,” Scott said.
Mike Brown, a vice president at TempleLive, also pushed back against an assertion by Health Secretary Smith that it shouldn’t be difficult for a venue to change the date. He said dates can be changed, but come at a cost.
“The logistics of just arbitrarily moving something a week just doesn’t work. There are marketing dollars that have been spent, there are travel expenses that have been [spent]. We’ve had to bring in part of the band, and send them back, and then have them back again. So, yeah, there’s a financial impact of not being able to [stick with the May 15 date],” Brown said.
The issue of “what’s next” was raised by the media at Thursday’s press conference. Scott said “picking that fight” now would be premature, but said they are considering options and consulting the “best” legal minds.
“We’re going to continue to consider our options. The question about lost revenue, legal fees, and frankly, the value of constitutional rights, we’ll continue to consider that. Our first focus though is to let Travis play and let people come in here and hear it and experience it. That’s our first priority today,” he said.
Was it all worth it? Beaty offered a definitive “yes.”
“I do think it’s worth it. It’s what we have to do, right? It’s how we get back as Americans. … Look, I mean they [all government elected and appointed officials] got it wrong. They just got it wrong. They got caught flat-footed, despite their best intentions. They got bad data and bad models, and these yielded bad decisions.”
In a statement sent to Talk Business & Politics, Gov. Hutchinson said data, science and advice from public health experts have guided all his decisions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The decisions I have made in regard to COVID-19 have been based upon the data, science, and best counsel from public health experts. This was true when I was getting national and local pressure to ‘shelter in place’ and I resisted that pressure because the data did not show it would be effective and the economic cost would be a loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs. In the same sense, the decision to phase in indoor concerts for opening on May 18 was based upon the same principles. The fact that the concert promoter moved the date 3 days forward to May 18 showed that it is not that hard to abide by the same rules that apply to everyone else. Mr. Beaty wanted an exception for an indoor concert, an exception no one else in Arkansas asked for or was allowed. I am pleased that he withdrew his request for special privileges.”