April 7, 2021
Joe Zemaitis is a world-class athlete, an All-American triathlete, and a Guinness world record holder. But for all he has accomplished, there’s one barrier that’s standing in his way—bureaucrats in the city of Scottsdale who are keeping Joe’s students out of city pools in violation of the Arizona Constitution. Today, the Goldwater Institute is teaming up with Joe to take on those bureaucrats and defend taxpayer rights.
As a lifelong competitive swimmer who knows firsthand the benefits of the sport, Joe wanted to pass along what he learned to young swimmers. To that end, he started the swim club Swim Neptune in the Phoenix area 20 years ago. Today, Joe is the head coach of the club and works with swimmers from age 5 through high school. To date, more than 7,500 children have benefitted from Swim Neptune coaching, and more than 500 are currently members.
But now, as Joe puts it, he’s running into a brick wall—the city of Scottsdale. In other towns throughout the metro Phoenix area, Swim Neptune has been able to rent space to provide lessons. For more than a decade, Swim Neptune has been trying to gain access to Scottsdale’s public pools, so kids in that area can more easily access needed facilities. But the city of Scottsdale has let a single private city-sponsored team, the Scottsdale Aquatic Club, practice in city pools at a highly discounted rate. And even though Swim Neptune has offered Scottsdale far more than what the Scottsdale Aquatic Club pays to use the pool lanes, Scottsdale has said no. “Since 2007, we’ve been aggressively pursuing space in the Scottsdale pools,” Joe said. “They seem to reinterpret the rules and rewrite the rules every time we are eligible under the criteria, they change them again to try to freeze us and our residents out, and it’s simply not fair.”
That’s not only unfair: It’s unconstitutional. And that’s why the Goldwater Institute and the American Freedom Network, our pro bono network of attorneys, have joined forces with Joe to put a stop to it. This monopoly violates Arizona’s Gift Clause, which prohibits government from giving gifts to private entities. That’s exactly what the city of Scottsdale is doing here, said Goldwater Director of National Litigation Jon Riches: “The city is allowing one private party to have an exclusive monopoly on the use of public resources, freezing out the competition. That’s hurting local kids who just want to get better at swimming, and it’s hurting Joe, who wants to expand his business and help those kids.” Riches continued, “If the city of Scottsdale can play favorites with the use of this public resource, it can play favorites with the use of every public resource—from parks to libraries to nature preserves.”
Scottsdale’s unconstitutional actions against Swim Neptune are preventing the swim club’s Scottsdale families from using facilities that they’re already paying for with their taxes. That means that these families have to drive to surrounding cities to get swim lessons, eating up more time and money for something they should be able to get in the town they live in. One of those kids, 14-year-old Ethan Mindlin, was cut from the Scottsdale Aquatic Club when he was younger—and today, he’s won an Arizona state championship for swimming with Swim Neptune. But his family has to drive 45 minutes each way to take him to practice because Scottsdale has turned their back on him.
The Goldwater Institute has a demonstrated record of success fighting Gift Clause violations like this: In February, the Arizona Supreme Court unanimously agreed with Goldwater that the city of Peoria violated the state’s Gift Clause when it gave away nearly $2.6 million to Huntington University, while the city’s taxpayers got nothing in return. Over the past year, Goldwater has also challenged violations of state Gift Clauses in Texas and New Jersey.
Joe’s facing a tough challenge here: city bureaucrats who want to preserve an unfair—and unconstitutional—monopoly over resources that should be available to everyone. But as always, Joe is up to the challenge. He’s got a goal he’s committed to—helping more kids build swimming skills and confidence through Swim Neptune. Together with Joe, the Goldwater Institute and the American Freedom Network are working to tear down that wall that Scottsdale has put up and get the city to do the right thing.