A local fitness trainer forced to close his gym due to government-imposed coronavirus restrictions was surprised on Friday when his outdoor workout with clients was broken up by a city code enforcer.
Cody Harter owns Harter Strength and Conditioning, a small fitness and personal training business run out of his gym in Plano.
On Friday, Harter was issued a warning by a Plano official claiming his outdoor exercise session was violating the city’s ordinance that forced gyms and other so-called “non-essential” businesses to close.
“I did two workouts this morning, and nobody showed up,” Harter told Texas Scorecard Monday.
He said the gym is actually following the ordinance as they see it, but the city code enforcer told him simply gathering in the parking lot is considered being “open” and a violation punishable by fines of at least $200 a day.
“What is a gym?” he asked. “My interpretation of the ordinance is that I myself am not a gym. My building is a gym, and it is, in fact, closed.”
“Part of the thing that was stupid is there is a desire to maintain our health,” he said. “But there needs to be some consistency. It is definitely overreach when you issue a vague rule and leave it to interpretation.”
Harter told Texas Scorecard he’s been holding the outside workouts for six weeks with no issues, and nobody has gotten sick.
He and his clients were surprised and annoyed by the city’s harassment because they are making an effort to do the right thing.
“We’re all trying to do what we are supposed to be doing to be safe,” he said. “The whole point is to prevent people from crowding together.”
Harter said he’s changed how he does business to comply with recommendations for preventing the spread of COVID-19.
In addition to moving outside and being strict about keeping people distanced, he has clients keep their hands and equipment clean (he said he was lucky to be able to stock up on cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer). He’s also rearranging equipment to accommodate smaller classes when the gym reopens and is offering some classes via Zoom.
Harter, a former Marine, started his business in 2014 and now has four employees.
He’s also a former lawyer and said he had an hour-long discussion with the city about the definition of a gym.
“This is an example of what happens when there are policies in place that give people too much power to overreach,” he said.
He doesn’t know why the enforcer stopped to hassle him that particular day.
Harter said a city official told him they were unaware of any complaints. He said he also had a productive conversation about the incident with Plano City Council Member Shelby Williams.
The warning was issued by the property standards division of Plano’s Neighborhood Services Department, which, according to the city’s website, is focusing on public health and safety violations during the current emergency declaration.
That declaration is set to expire today.
Tonight, Plano City Council will consider extending an amended version of the disaster declaration through June 8.
Harter doesn’t know what that will mean for his gym and other small businesses deemed “non-essential.” Williams told Texas Scorecard the proposed new ordinance doesn’t mention gyms, meaning they will be governed by new state restrictions announced today by Gov. Greg Abbott.
Abbott’s plan allows individuals to “engage in outdoor sports” starting May 1, provided the sports don’t include contact with other participants and no more than four people play at a time, but sets May 18 as a “target date” for when gyms might be allowed to reopen.
Harter said the coronavirus closures have definitely hurt his business. Though he has a solid foundation and has been able to pay rent so far, the gym has lost members, and his plans to open a second location are now on hold.
“I feel fortunate because we’re probably in a better position than other places,” he said. “What’s scariest is how long it’s going to take for people to come out and try something new.”
Like many Texans, he’s hoping the government will move out of the way and allow him and his customers to move forward and work together safely.
“Our democracy is fragile,” Harter said. “It’s up to every one of us to maintain it.”