Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Small Town...Big Government! It's the same all over.

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Commission Reinstates Beach Yoga Permit

by Tim Wood

CHATHAM --- The park and recreation commission Tuesday reinstated a permit for Valerie Twomey’s popular Lighthouse Beach yoga program.

After two failed votes to lower the permit fee, the commission voted to stick to the $1,000 permit fee it had approved in February. The commission also asked Twomey to circulate a sign-in sheet at her daily sunrise yoga classes in order to gauge attendance. Commissioners pointed out several times at Tuesday’s meeting that they had continually asked her for attendance records in order to help determine a fair permit fee.

After Tuesday’s meeting at the community center, Twomey said she will pay the fee and go ahead with her classes, which are scheduled to begin June 21. However, she said she will not use a sign-in sheet.

“My income is none of their business,” she said.

Twomey established the beach yoga program about seven years ago. At first she did not have a permit. When the beach came under the jurisdiction of the park and recreation commission, a $150 permit fee was charged. In 2007 the fee climbed to $300, and then to $600 last year.

After the permit was granted in February, Twomey questioned the fee. She later received an e-mail from Chairman Gary Anderson stating that because she questioned the fee, she had not accepted permit and it would be revoked. The commission was also town by town counsel that the use of the beach for a for-profit yoga program should be placed out to bid.

Twomey told the commission Tuesday that she was confused when her questions about the fee resulted in its rejection. “Freedom of speech is a right in this country, the First Amendment. No resident should be afraid to ask questions with fear of repercussions,” she said.

She added that it was not necessary to bid the program, since the beach is large enough to accommodate many similar classes. There are also other beaches in town where such a program could be run.

Commission members supported the program, but said they needed to know attendance figures in order to determine a fair permit fee. Unlike one-day events, the program is a for-profit business using town property seven days a week during the summer. Vice Chairman Chris Cannon said Twomey has not been forthright with the commission about how many people attend the sessions. The potential is there “to make an awful lot of money,” he said.

“I’m happy to see you teach the class. You created it, you deserve to teach it. But until you give us information, it’s fair for you to pay what we ask,” he said.

“We have been very fair. But quite honestly, I don’t feel very generous, because I don’t feel you have been generous to us,” he said.

Use of the beach should not be free, added Commissioner Joyce Reynolds. “If you had a building, you’d have to pay rent,” she said.

Basing the fee on her income was tantamount to leveling an income tax, which she already pays to the state and federal governments, Twomey said.

“My income is not the concern of the park and recreation commission and the commission has no legal right to impose income taxes on anyone,” she said.

Anderson first proposed that the permit fee be rolled back to last year’s $600. His motion lost. Cannon then proposed that the fee be set at $800, and that Twomey be required to provide the commission with copies of sign-in sheets. That motion also lost. Reynolds motion to set the fee at the original $1,000 passed; it also included the proviso that sign-in sheets be provided.

The commission also agreed to review the fee on Aug. 1. If the weather has been poor, they could lower the amount. That’s why they need the attendance sheets, commissioners said.

Nearly a dozen beach yoga participants crowded into the small meeting room at the community center to show their support for Twomey.

“It’s more than just a yoga class,” said Cheryl Kain, summing up the feelings of many in the room. “It’s a community thing.”


[...and you know what the sorriest part of this story is? The same commissioners will be re-elected next go around!]


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