June 17, 2011
The first rule of public relations: When you take on little kids in the battle for public sympathy, you will always, always lose.
Our scene: Bethesda, Maryland. Just outside the gates of Congressional Country Club, the site of this year's U.S. Open, some kids were selling lemonade to patrons with the intention of donating the profits to children's charities. Wholesome! Precious! Could anything be more American than that?
Turns out there is something more American than that: government bureaucracy. Montgomery County inspectors repeatedly warned the children (and their parents) that they were violating a ban on vendors within county limits, and when the tots didn't shut down their operation, the government stepped in, initially shutting the operation down and fining the parents $500. Later on Friday, the county reconsidered and waived the fine, asking the kids to reopen in a safer location.
Here's the local news report:
Now, let's try to see both sides of the story here. The county generally doesn't go around strong-arming lemonade stands into submission. But because of traffic and safety concerns around the club's entrance, the county says it has been closing down multiple vendors.
Plus, as the inspector charged, this wasn't just two kids with a pitcher and a misspelled sign. No, this was a full-scale lemonade distribution operation: "Cute little kids making five or ten dollars is a little bit different than making hundreds," WUSA reported the inspector as saying. "You've got coolers and coolers here."
"To raise money for pediatric cancer," the kids' mother responded.
Another side to the issue: the county has issued hundreds of permits at $300 apiece to allow local residents to become impromptu parking lot magnates. The residents are selling parking spots for up to $60 apiece, and WUSA reports that some are making "tens of thousands of dollars" in parking fees.
Good on the county for seeing the PR nightmare that was, and taking a slightly wiser course of action on reconsideration. Still, Welcome to the real world, kids!
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