Boot Camp Las Vegas owner Julie Johnston should consider moonlighting as a lobbyist, or — as the Euphemism Police prefer to call them — a “government relations specialist.” When ordered by heavy-handed Clark County officials to keep her fitness classes out of public parks, the businesswoman challenged a bureaucracy overflowing with arrogance and short on common sense — all the way to the County Commission.
Last week, commissioners approved changes in the county code that will allow Ms. Johnston to continue leading her paying customers through their exercise regimen in county parks. Ms. Johnston was able to negotiate the deal almost single-handedly after about two years of persistence.
“We’re very happy,” she said on behalf of herself and the residents whose lives she has improved through rigorous physical activity. “You know, you have to compromise.”
Park police and the Parks and Recreation Department previously had insisted that Ms. Johnston couldn’t lead taxpaying citizens in the kinds of activities that public parks were built to accommodate, even if they weren’t interfering with other park users.
They explained that if Ms. Johnston were volunteering her time, her group exercises would be just fine. But because she was being paid — because she was making a living — she and her charges had to be expelled.
The policy was asinine, considering local politicians frequently bemoan the valley’s obesity rates. Meantime, the cities of Las Vegas and Henderson saw no problem with Ms. Johnston using their parks.
The county’s new policy will allow businesses to operate in parks at a cost of $1,000 per year per park used. Nonprofits must pay a smaller fee of $500 per park each year. Ms. Johnston estimates the new policy will cost her $4,000 to $6,000 per year — an amount that will bite her company but not sink it altogether.
The entrepreneur says the appointment of Jane Pike as acting parks and recreation director led to the compromise. Former Director Leonard Cash, who now works in Justice Court, preferred an empty park to one with a handful of users paying a trainer.
“It’s much easier to say, ‘No, period. We’ve always done it that way,'” Ms. Pike told the Review-Journal’s Scott Wyland. “I think that flexibility is so important.”
The county would have been wiser to resolve Ms. Johnston’s dispute without the imposition of fees and — along with them — a new “permitting” process. Don’t Ms. Johnston and her customers already pay taxes to support the parks?
Beyond that, establishing different fees for for-profit businesses and for nonprofits makes little sense. If the county’s ultimate concern is the impact of fitness classes on county facilities, why should commissioners care how companies report to the Internal Revenue Service? Are they under the delusion that all small business owners keep seven different sports cars in the garage — one for each day of the week — while directors of nonprofit outfits spend an hour panhandling on the street corner each evening before bedding down in a storm drain?
As long as folks are engaging in activities suitable for a public park and not monopolizing limited space, allowing other citizens to use and enjoy the facilities their tax dollars maintain, they should be free to carry out their exercises without fear of being stopped by authorities and asked, “Papers, please.”
That said, it’s encouraging that county officials were willing to recognize their old policies were not serving the public interest.
And it’s even more heartening that Ms. Johnston was able to slash through so much red tape without having to make four-figure campaign contributions to incumbent commissioners or take out a loan to retain the services of an elite law firm and its roster of connected ex-politicians.
Citizens can, on their own, make government more accountable. Thanks to Ms. Johnston for sticking to her guns, and leading by example.