Hoping to glimpse a nip slip or three at the Lumière Place Grand Parade on February 21 in Soulard? Each instance of such titillation, if spied by officials, will cost the offending float a $100 fine, levied by Soulard Mardi Gras organizer Mardi Gras Inc.
"Lewd behavior/Nudity" is one of thirteen violations codified not by the city of St. Louis, but by Mardi Gras Inc. The group (or so-called "krewe") that operates each float must lay down a $350 deposit to join the parade. If a krewe commits an infraction and a police officer or parade volunteer reports it, Mardi Gras Inc. will deduct the fine from the krewe's deposit.
Some of Mardi Gras Inc.'s potential fines are administrative, such as $200 for missing the mandatory preparation meeting. Others govern parade behavior: Excessively loud music or halting the float en route, for example, will cost a krewe $250. "Bad form reported by parade marshals," which parade chairman Steve Mueller says might involve silly-stringing police officers or mouthing off to volunteers, brings a $200 fine.
In rare cases, a krewe member might also receive a police citation or get arrested, according to St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department spokeswoman Kathleen O'Sullivan. "If the law's being violated, officers have the authority to take action," she explains, "but the vast majority of violations are regulated through Mardi Gras Inc." (For more about Mardi Gras Inc.'s history of controversial policies, see Chad Garrison's story "Party Nazis," published in December 2006.)
Neither the Veiled Prophet Parade nor St. Patrick's Day Parade imposes a fine schedule, according to spokesmen for those events.
Mueller says the fines were in place when he took the helm four years ago and that since then the number of fines levied has dropped by half. Last year, according to Mueller, Mardi Gras Inc. imposed about ten fines, most for non-behavioral infractions. Overall, Mueller says, "Everybody did a pretty darn good job."
This was an improvement over the 2007 parade, when one krewe's fines exceeded its deposit (requiring the group to sit out the following year) and a second krewe flashed the judges — the only lewdness fine levied during Mueller's tenure. "People saw it, you can't deny it," he notes.
But Matt Reardon of the Mystic Knights of the Purple Haze krewe decries the lack of a formal procedure for disputing a fine. For example, Reardon says, all floats are required to return to the staging area post-parade. Two years ago his krewe instead went directly into the lot where they store the float, because it lay on the route back to the staging area.
Mardi Gras Inc. issued a fine for the infraction but reduced it after Reardon explained his reasoning. "They need to set up [a formal] appeals process, which they have not done," Reardon says.
Reardon notes that while Soulard bar owners reap much of the profit from the parade, his krewe spends thousands of dollars on the float and parade fees, not to mention beads. Given that setup, he argues, "To be charged and fined over piddly things is really disappointing."
Some violations are tough to avoid, points out Terry Nelson of the Soulard Social Aid and Pleasure Club krewe. "If you got a situation — the music's down, you gotta check on the float — you should be able to stop and you shouldn't be fined for that," Nelson contends.
But he understands the need for order in general: "You don't want a bunch of drunk idiots throwing their girlfriends naked off a float."