ST. PAUL, MN -- The city council of St. Paul, MN, voted unanimously Wednesday night to uphold the $500 fines of two Anytime Fitness franchisees in St. Paul for not having CPR-trained staff on the premises at all times at the 24-hour key-card clubs.
The city council followed the recommendation by Minnesota Administrative Law Judge Beverly Jones Heydinger, who on April 17 upheld the fines that were first levied last December.
Kathy Lantry, one of the seven city council members, said the Anytime Fitness franchisees failed to present their cases Wednesday night.
“It was sort of a no-brainer,” Lantry told Club Industry’s Fitness Business Pro. “There was a very narrow issue that was before the city council last night, and that was, did they follow the ordinance that’s currently in place? And the answer was clearly they did not. They didn’t even dispute the fact that they didn’t have anybody on staff. There was no other way to vote last night. None.”
The ordinance was originally put in place in 1989 to crack down on prostitution rings in sex clubs. The ordinance was amended in 1992 to include the clause about having a CPR-trained staff member on the premises at all times.
Chapter 427.07, Section 12 of the St. Paul ordinance reads: At least one (1) employee or manager, trained and qualified in first aid and CPR according to standards established by rule by the department of safety and inspections shall be on duty at all times that the licensed premises are in operation or open to members or the public. Such standards shall be in conformity with standards and guidelines established by the American Red Cross with respect to water safety instructors or by the American Heart Association for similar purposes.
Anytime Fitness corporate spokesperson Mark Daly says that the company is working with St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman to change the language of the ordinance, specifically on the interpretation of what “on duty” means. However, the mayor can't introduce legislation to the council, Lantry says. Ordinance changes require a council member to sponsor and introduce the change to the council. A majority vote (4-3) of the city council would be required to then enact the change, she says.
Although Anytime Fitness club owners can be reached by their cell phones at anytime and their clubs have panic buttons and emergency necklaces for members, that still does not satisfy the requirements of the law, Lantry says.
“Our ordinance requires that someone be on duty,” Lantry says, not just be available by cell phone to “do CPR sort of remotely, apparently. It was an argument that could not fly, and didn’t.”
Joe Wittwer, who along with his brother, Jason, own one of the two fined Anytime Fitness clubs, said that he was disappointed that the city council upheld the judge’s ruling.
“The decision will make it very difficult for us to operate our business under our Anytime Fitness model here in St. Paul,” Joe Wittwer read from a prepared statement. “We’re looking to work with the city council. We’re willing to work with the city as far as making some concessions, giving police special access to our club. We’ve got nothing to hide.”
Wittwer added that his brother and he have about 30 days to comply with the law and hire staff.
“We haven’t made the final decision on whether we’re going to staff for the whole 24 hours a day or maybe close down for a few hours a night,” said Wittwer, who added that he and his brother plan to pay the fine within the next 30 days.
Lantry said she talked with Jason Wittwer several months ago, shortly after the club opened. The club is located in her ward.
“We had a very candid conversation about the fact that if he wanted to open this club, he was going to need to pay someone to be there anytime the club was opened who was CPR trained,” Lantry says.
If the two Anytime Fitness clubs continue to operate without staff, they could face escalating fines, Lantry says. Several violations could result in a revoking of their licenses, she adds.
“In St. Paul, people actually need to follow the law,” Lantry says. “That’s what happens here.”