Sunday, July 22, 2012

Jeffersonville Government Competing with Private Business?

HARBESON: Fit to be tied

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — Shortly after taking office, Jeffersonville Mayor Mike Moore announced that he would not pursue renovations on the big blue barge, which was purchased under the previous administration and intended to replace the current RiverStage entertainment barge. Since this new barge included a banquet/reception hall, one reason Moore gave for drowning the idea was that he doesn’t want the city competing with private businesses.

That’s a great principle to hold and although there are many ways the city of Jeffersonville currently competes with private businesses, Moore at least took a first step by not adding another one. Upholding this principle didn’t last long though. Moore has already directly contradicted himself and created a brand new government program that has the city competing with private businesses — coincidentally using the RiverStage barge.

Here’s how it happened. One of the personal causes Moore wants to push as mayor is health and fitness so he created a Mayor’s Fitness Council and appointed people to work on ideas to promote fitness in the community. (Let’s hope these are walking meetings and members are not sitting on their butts in a conference room.)

 One result of these meetings is the Anchors A-Weigh program. This program, which has cost $19,000 — appropriated by the city council — so far and even has its own dedicated website, uses the RiverStage to hold “free” fitness classes, two of which are Jazzercise and Zumba. Guess who gets paid to teach the classes. That’s right, members of the same government council that created the government program — who just happen to be Zumba and Jazzercise instructors.

There are several questionable aspects here, but let’s focus on Moore’s previously stated principle that he doesn’t want the city competing with private businesses. Teaching various fitness classes is actually one of the few areas left that does not have huge barriers to entry due to government regulation. It’s a good choice for those who have a passion for fitness and want to be more independent and start their own business.

Many people work very hard in this field trying to build and grow a customer base that will enable them to make a profit. They stay busy trying to find prospective clients who are seeking effective methods to help them keep healthy and fit. So when Jeffersonville offers “free” fitness classes nearly every day of the week, the city is directly competing with those hard-working small business owners.

In addition, getting one’s name out there and developing a reputation as an expert is important in the fitness business, which means the members on the Mayor’s Fitness Council who are now employed by the government to teach these classes are getting an additional marketing benefit. While they are being paid, not only to teach but to market themselves, their competitors are out there marketing themselves on their own dimes.

Owners of fitness businesses understand that they need to find ways to attract clients and persuade them to use their services and they use various techniques to accomplish this goal such as giving free or introductory priced sessions to new students. Moore’s government program interferes with this process and creates competition with private fitness-based businesses, in direct contradiction to his stated principles.

If the mayor and his friends are so passionate and interested in promoting fitness to others, there are loads of ways they can do so without creating city programs that compete with private businesses. The instructors on the council can volunteer their time and host truly free sessions to introduce people to various forms of exercise. Mayor Moore could set up group sessions outside his government office focusing on squat exercises and call it “Quads on the Quadrangle.”

If they worked to promote their cause using purely voluntary means, then no government spending is necessary and private businesses will not be forced to compete with city government. Which is what the mayor wants, right?

— Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson exercises hard in the summer sweating over lots of push-ups — the orange kind that is.

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