Santa Hat Hustle moves out of city following permit denial

Annual run now scheduled for Hazel Park

By: Victoria Mitchell | Royal Oak Review | Published November 24, 2015


ROYAL OAK — Following the City Commission’s decision to deny an event permit for the second annual Santa Hat Hustle, organizers said the event would now take place in a neighboring community.

“We are thrilled to announce that the Santa Hat Hustle will be held Saturday, Dec. 12, as planned,” said Regina Stocco, owner of Ultimate Fun Runs and The Social Connection. “The location for the 2015 event will be in the city of Hazel Park.”

Stocco said organizers contacted nearly all of the registered runners to let them know it would not be held in Royal Oak like last year.

The City Commission denied the event permit for the run — which drew more than 1,000 participants last year — during its Nov. 9 meeting. The City Commission acted unanimously on Police Chief Corrigan O’Donohue’s recommendation to cut ties with the event because of the past actions of the event promoter, Matt Flynn.

Stocco said Flynn was hired by Ultimate Fun Runs to secure the permits, plan the logistics and promote the event.

“We have had three prior approved runs involving the applicant, Mr. Flynn, and with each run, the applicant failed to provide sufficient volunteers on time and made last-minute changes to the course, which created confusion and potentially endangered the runners, and was inconvenient for the residents along the run route,” said O’Donohue. “Additionally, Mr. Flynn regularly attempts to do things he is not authorized to do with a special event.”

O’Donohue said issues have included advertising an event before it received approval; not providing information in a timely manner to city officials; and not sticking to what was authorized in a special event permit. The Santa Hat Hustle was listed on the event website as taking place in Royal Oak until early in the week of Nov. 16.

In a prepared statement sent to the Review, Flynn stated that he regrets the mistakes and said they were all a part of the learning curve with running these types of events.

He stated that the last-minute course modifications were done to meet certification requirements.

Flynn stated that the night after the City Commission meeting, he stepped down from his hired position at Ultimate Fun Runs.

Flynn said he had packets to distribute to commission members during the meeting that included letters of support for the event and from the benefiting charities, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Oakland & Macomb Counties and St. Paul Lutheran Church.

'He appeared at the Nov. 9 meeting and asked to speak during the agenda item; however, it is against meeting rules for a member of the audience to speak, unless it is during public comment or during a public hearing.

Stocco said that despite the location change, Ultimate Fun Runs would still collect toys to distribute to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Oakland & Macomb Counties and would still make a monetary donation to St. Paul Lutheran Church. Both charitable organizations are located in Royal Oak.

Stocco said she met with Royal Oak officials and hoped to repair their relationship.

“We’re hopeful we’ll be able to do more runs in Royal Oak,” she said.

Stocco said that things did escalate during the commission meeting — including some blame placed on Flynn for prior problems that she believed were out of his control — and she felt that Ultimate Fun Runs does have a positive footprint and outlook with its events.

Flynn has hosted other events in the city for charitable causes, such as the Cowbell Classic in August 2015, which benefited the Royal Oak Historical Society.

O’Donohue said that at the Cowbell Classic, Flynn added elements to the event — such as a live band and livestock — which were not approved in the special-use permit. The chief said Flynn also changed the course of the run and did not have volunteers at the event on time.

Flynn stated that when he learned the Royal Oak High School marching band could not attend the event as planned, he substituted its appearance with the band, the Reefermen, to make sure the band requirement was met, per the Guinness organization. He said the addition of bringing two cows was a quick approval after a 4-H Club volunteered to bring them.

Flynn said he regrets the changes and now understands that no deviations from an initial permit are allowed.

“Mr. Flynn appears to operate under the premise that it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission,” O’Donohue said.

Flynn said he does not operate that way.

“Event production is not an easy or exact process,” he wrote in his statement.

Flynn said there are issues that come up requiring a quick decision. Flynn stated that he did not have a lot of experience with events that required city permit approval.

City Commissioner Kyle DuBuc said he felt it was not a terribly high bar that the city set, and given the chief’s report, he stood by the decision to deny the event permit. DuBuc said that if Flynn followed the rules, DuBuc would be willing to look at future event requests.

Mayor Jim Ellison said Flynn has run some good events at the Royal Oak Farmers Market, but there was a disconnect with the runs.

Flynn stated that he agrees he has experienced some growing pains with promoting events outside of the Farmers Market, including the runs, but he said he has learned from his mistakes.

“I have taken responsibility for those errors on all occasions and, in some instances, took blame for things that were supposed to be handled by other departments both in responsibility and financially to help maintain the status quo,” he stated.

Ellison made it clear the city was not saying no to the charities affiliated with the Santa Hat Hustle.

“What we’re saying no to is an operator that has failed to perform when asked, when warned, when talked to,” Ellison said. “And it’s kind of like, fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me; fool me three times, we’re out of the ball park.”

Flynn said he feels remorseful.

“This event could have been an amazing annual tradition for the city of Royal Oak,” he stated.

The Santa Hat Hustle in Hazel Park will feature a 5K run and walk, a quarter-mile kids Donner Dash and a 1-mile Santa Stroll.