Under threat from AG, open-air gym throws in the towel

Today, Vermont Senate committee considers bill to expand police powers of state to reduce carbon emissions

by Guy Page

The news out of Rutland last night is chilling. The State has won and a small business owner has lost.

As this report about the heavy use of police powers is being written this morning, the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee is considering a bill that would give the State of Vermont immense new authority to mandate carbon emissions reduction. We can only hope the following story will not be prophetic.

If you’ve been reading the news, you know that Attorney General TJ Donovan sued a Rutland gym for operating his indoor gym in violation of pandemic-related executive orders. indoors. “Unfortunate but necessary,” we may think. “Everyone should follow the same rules.”

But what happened next troubles me. After gym owner Sean Manovill moved equipment outside, our AG then sent Manovill a stiff letter requiring four pages’ worth of bullet-pointed compliance. Violations carry the threat of fines and jail time.

Here’s how Donovan justifies his actions, as reported on WCAX: “The idea that he is just going to leave his equipment out in his parking lot and people could come and use it is just unacceptable. That just makes no sense. And so, at the end of the day, this needs to stop. He needs to follow the order. He needs to shut down or there are going to be some possible consequences.”

That’s how the State of Vermont’s senior law enforcement officer treats a small business owner who actually tried to compromise, comply AND stay open.

Faced with unsupportable financial legal costs and loss of his personal freedom, Manovill threw in the gym towel. He quit. He’s shut down. Probably knew he was punching above his weight all along. But standing alone inside his vacant gym, the 2004 Castleton graduate and lifelong fitness industry executive recorded a video message on Facebook of interest to Vermonters concerned about overuse of the police power of the state.

“Today is a sad day in America,” Manovill begins. “Club Fitness has been sued and fined into submission…Contempt of court carries a threat of jail time, and I cannot do that to my wife and two young children. The State of Vermont has taken the rights of free of free people to make us comply with their agenda. God bless us all.”

Those of us who work in “essential industries” should, I suppose, feel grateful. Or at least relieved. Because if all we did to feed our families was to help people stay fit and healthy and live longer, more enjoyable lives, we’d always be looking over our shoulders to see if Big Brother Donovan was running up to us, waving his big stick.

This act has awful implications for Vermont’s economic recovery. Why would anyone open a “non-essential” business in Vermont during the next two years, knowing that a hyper-vigilant State could treat you the way it has treated Sean Manovill? Vermont was already a tough place to build a small business due to high taxation and regulation. But this… this is a whole new level of unworkable intolerance.

We accept the need for social distancing and public health enforcement. We can’t accept an AG threatening a small businessman who really tried to comply. We can’t accept the image of yellow crime scene tape surrounding an exercise bike in a parking lot.

Which brings us back to today’s Senate review of the Global Warming Solutions Act. Surely none of these fine elected representatives would give the State unreasonable, intrusive police powers over something like carbon emissions reduction, right? It’s just unthinkable that in five or 10 years a Vermont Attorney General will fume about that inconsiderate home owner who “needs to follow the order” to not burn scrap wood in his backyard.

Right?

Because, to quote TJ Donovan, “that just makes no sense. And so, at the end of the day, this needs to stop.”

Photo of Sean Manovill and family from Club Fitness website.