|Something about this just doesn't look right!|
This article appeared in the Arizona Republic newspaper this week. Arizona is famous for it's extreme right wing views, but this is so far right that it's left, in my opinion. How ironic that the anti government involvement people want to regulate a community's right to provide recreational and fitness facilities to it's citizens. They don't do much for their "out of touch" image when they propose closing down public facilities in order to deflect competition from for-profit commercial gyms. Only in Arizona.
Communities all over the world have been providing facilities and encouraging public involvement for their own health and fitness for centuries. What are these people thinking? Someone's brother-in-law must own a Planet Fitness in the area.
By Parker LeavittThe Republic | azcentral.comTue Apr 16, 2013 11:07 PM
The Goldwater Institute is demanding that Gilbert cease operations at its popular Freestone Recreation Center over concerns that the $11 million public facility violates state law and unfairly competes with private fitness centers.
Goldwater attorney Taylor Earl said the conservative think tank hopes to send a message across the state that compels governments “to stay within their constitutional bounds,” something the group believes Gilbert has overstepped in building the public fitness center.
The dispute will be closely watched by other Arizona cities and towns, especially Phoenix, Scottsdale, Mesa and Tempe, all of which have similar recreational facilities.
Freestone opened in 2002 with basketball and racquetball courts, exercise equipment, saunas and a 40-foot rock-climbing wall. Daily admission costs $4 for an adult Gilbert resident and $6 for a non-resident.
The town estimates that the center has 236,000 visitors annually.
In a letter to Gilbert Mayor John Lewis in November, Earl contends the recreation center provides services beyond the scope allowed by state statute and is therefore “unauthorized and illegal.”
Though Freestone is now nearly 11 years old, a local gym owner complained to the Goldwater Institute last year, prompting the group’s recent legal challenge, Earl said. He refused to identify the owner but said it was a gym in Gilbert.
“Private health clubs in the area have not only been forced to fund their competition through taxation, but they cannot compete with Freestone on equal footing,” Earl argues in his letter to the town.
Goldwater has asked Gilbert either to shutter the recreation center or to sell it to a private company. The town should also order a legal audit of its Parks and Recreation Department to look for other facilities it may not have the legal authority to operate, Earl said.
Gilbert’s Freestone center is not unique in the Valley. There are several other facilities that also provide exercise equipment, sport courts and rock climbing to the general public.
Mesa’s Red Mountain Multigenerational Center, for example, offers cardio machines, volleyball, rock climbing and massage therapy. Admission prices are similar to those at Freestone.
Scottsdale and Phoenix offer multiple public fitness centers, and Tempe’s Kiwanis Recreation Center includes a gym, batting range and wave pool.
Goldwater says Gilbert is different because the town does not have a voter-approved charter that broadly defines its powers. Instead, the town derives authority from state statute, giving it limited powers, Goldwater says.
Ken Strobeck, executive director of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, said cities and towns for the most part have the same powers whether they have adopted a charter.
City charters historically were more meaningful, but the Legislature in recent years has granted more authority to “general law” cities, which don’t have a charter, Strobeck said. It’s been 20 years since the last city charter was adopted, he added.
There are 19 charter cities in Arizona, according to the league. Among Phoenix-area municipalities with more than 50,000 residents, only Gilbert and Surprise remain without charters.
Still, those communities have the right to develop parks, league general counsel William Bock said. If Goldwater is trying to draw the line on what type of park is allowed, it is “splitting hairs too much,” Bock said.
Earl said the Goldwater Institute hopes Gilbert will voluntarily comply with its demand but hinted at possible litigation if the town refuses.
If the issue ends up in court, Earl said, the case could exceed the scope and significance of the high-profile CityNorth case, in which Goldwater challenged Phoenix’s $97 million incentive deal for the mixed-use development.
Strobeck agreed that the case would be significant for municipalities but thinks that it is unlikely that a court would issue a ruling that requires cities to receive permission from the state Legislature for every activity.
Gilbert’s contract town attorney, Susan Goodwin, dismissed Goldwater’s claims in a response she sent to the organization in December asserting the town’s right to own and operate the facility “for the general good of the public.”
Cities and towns are not restricted from competing with the private sector in providing recreation opportunities, Goodwin wrote.
In March, Earl again prodded the town on its operations at Freestone and restated his opinion that the center does not meet the definition of a park.
The Goldwater complaint came as a “big surprise” to the town, Goodwin said.
The Gilbert Town Council was scheduled to meet in executive session on Tuesday evening to discuss the Goldwater complaint. Officials are forbidden by law from divulging details of such closed-door meetings.
The makeup of the council leans to the right, and recent elections have sent staunch conservatives with “tea party” ties to Gilbert Town Hall. It remains unclear, however, if the council will be receptive to Goldwater’s demands.
Former Phoenix Mayor Paul Johnson, now a member of the centrist Grand Canyon Institute, said the Goldwater complaint is “depressing” and “out of touch.” Johnson said the argument reminds him of one made by a resident during his tenure as mayor, when Phoenix weighed funding a swimming pool.
“They said, ‘Mayor, if these kids want to swim, they ought to swim in their own backyard,’ ” Johnson recalled.
But there will always be groups of people who lack the financial means for such activities, and cutting them off from public facilities is only asking for trouble, Johnson said.
“I will make you a guarantee. You will need to hire a lot more police because, sooner or later, some of those kids will get into trouble,” Johnson said. “You are sowing the seeds of revolution. That’s something that history tells you.”