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"'Spanksgiving' convention organizers say Fairview Heights unfairly targets vendors"

on Thursday, 17 November 2011. Posted in Front Page Headline, Media Updates

Organizers of a sex convention this weekend say they are being unfairly targeted after aldermen said the city will check if event vendors have permits.

STL3 Inc. has organized a "Spanksgiving" conference from Friday to Sunday at the Four Points by Sheraton hotel for about 250 people who will explore bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism in sexual relationships.

Ward 1 Alderman Norm Miller informed the public at a City Council meeting on Tuesday that he received a call from a concerned citizen about the event.

Miller questioned whether event vendors would need permits and if the city would get sales tax revenue from sold merchandise.

"We have no idea what's going on in there. We have no idea what's being sold," Miller said.

National Coalition for Sexual Freedom spokeswoman Susan Wright, on behalf of a national advocacy group that partners with STL3 Inc., said the conference will have classes and social activities as well as vendors who sell sex toys and other merchandise.

Wright said organizers want to cooperate fully with the city, and plans to obey all state and city laws. But Wright also questions the timing of the enforcement.

"What is being asked of this conference that is not being asked of other conferences?" Wright said. "You can't just enforce it against one group and not another. Did other conference vendors have to pay this fee? It's because of the nature of the event."

Wright said event organizers were not notified by the city about the permits until Wednesday and the hotel was not aware of the requirements.

Ward 5 Alderwoman Sandy Baldwin said the city decided in recent weeks to enforce the merchant ordinance and sent letters to all hotels and motels in the city.

The city is not targeting "Spanksgiving" specifically, but making a push to enforce existing codes, Baldwin said. She added that though she is personally against the event, she recognizes the group's rights.

"I would prefer to not have this kind of event in our city, there's no doubt about that," Baldwin said. "But I also understand, legally, when your hands are tied, we can only make sure the laws on our books are being followed."

Baldwin also said the city will monitor the area to ensure there's no activity outside the hotel and none of the trailers on the hotel parking lot display graphic images.

According to the city's "Hawkers, Peddlers & Itinerant Merchants" ordinance passed in August 1990, merchandise vendors need to have a city-issued license to operate and applicants must have an Illinois sales tax number.

The permit fee is $50 per event and good for seven consecutive days. Those who violate the ordinance could be fined from $150 to $500 a day.

The ordinance also states that "Charitable, Service, Church Organizations, City sponsored functions and Non-Profit Hobby Clubs shall be exempt from any fees incurred as a result of this legislation upon review by the Mayor."

The city would not make nonprofit groups such as the Girl Scouts get permits, Baldwin said.

"I think there's a difference between a Girl Scout cookie and a sexual toy paraphernalia. When you sell Girl Scout cookies, that money is put back into the Girl Scouts. It's going back into the community."

STL3 Inc. is a registered nonprofit corporation with the Missouri Secretary of State and Internal Revenue Service....

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