Without question, Avalon is one of the best beach towns on the South Jersey coast. Jutting a mile further out in the Atlantic than other shore points, its cool ocean breezes and pristine beaches make for a fantastic family vacation.
That is, unless you happen to cross the Avalon Beach Patrol, who seem to relish acting like storm-troopers.
A case earlier this month illustrates just how out-of-control the Beach Patrol — and by extension, Avalon itself— has become.
As is the case with most shore towns, beach tags are required. This policy has long irked the vast majority of beach-goers, who believe they more than pay the cost of beach preservation by the many taxes and fees levied on them. And they also believe, not unjustifiably, that the beach belongs to everyone, and no one should have to pay to use it.
Disdain aside, most comply. Incredibly, though, that wasn’t good enough for the Avalon Patrol.
Most days, beach tag inspectors guard the entrances to beaches, checking to ensure that beachgoers have tags.
On a recent weekend, a woman with three young children — including one with a broken arm — was entering the beach. Asked for her tags, she informed the 14-year old inspector that her husband had them on the loaded beach cart. He was 50 feet behind her, in clear view. The woman’s two youngest then sprinted to an open spot near the life-guard stand, where they always set up camp for the day.
No problem, since the woman and her husband had seasonal tags — just as they had for the past 11 years.
Or so it seemed.
As the husband approached, he showed his tag, and started onto the beach. The checker asked if he was with "that other woman." Having no clue to what she was referring, he inquired what she meant. After discerning it was his wife, he showed the second tag (children under 12 do not need tags).
He had no issue showing the beach tags at the entry point, but stated his frustration over continually getting harassed throughout the day by teams of roving tag inspectors. These teams work the beaches, routinely awakening people, interrupting conversations and even demanding swimmers leave the water to show tags (many people have their tags affixed to bags or chairs.)
The point the man was making was simple. Logic dictates that if tags are inspected upon entry, then inspectors walking the beaches aren’t necessary.
At that point, the inspector snapped, "That’s enough out of you. Keep quiet. I don’t want to hear another word." This, from a 14 year old girl!
That attitude should be grounds for dismissal for any employee, but for a minor to speak to an adult in that manner is utterly unacceptable. This fresh-mouthed child was completely out of line as a representative of Avalon.
The man asked who she thought she was to speak to anyone like that, whereupon she made a beeline to the lifeguard stand and reported that someone actually had the "gall" to speak back to her.
Within minutes, four guards showed up in trucks, and began interrogating the husband and wife, while Little Miss Personality was high-fiving one of the lifeguards.
The Lieutenant — yes, they take that army title way too seriously — then proceeded to demand answers from the man, asking, "Do you think it was right to talk to a 14-year old girl like that? That’s harassment!"
The man replied that the Lieutenant had not been there, took the word of one of his own as gospel, and didn’t even ask what had actually occurred. So much for due process.
At this point, the Lieutenant’s "backup" — a Captain, and obviously the real brains of the group — stated that he could have the man "arrested for harassment."
How so? Because the husband had his arms folded while he was talking. This, he was told, "…was harassment. It’s a defensive posture, and I know about these things, because I deal with bad people like you all the time."
How’s that for incoherence?
The end result was that the wife was issued a citation for $80. The "crime?" Failure to have beach tags.
Even though she had a seasonal tag.
And the icing on the cake? The husband asked for the names of each Beach Patrol member as well as the 14-year old girl, but was told by the Lieutenant, "No. You don’t need that information. I am the issuing ‘officer.’ That’s all you need."
Interesting that he could issue the citation at all, since he wasn’t even there when the woman met the beach inspector. That’s like getting a speeding ticket from an officer who didn’t pull you over for the violation.
The woman took off a morning of work to fight the ticket, arriving at Avalon Court at 9:00 am, yet after two hours, she was told her case wouldn’t be heard until the afternoon. With a two-hour drive ahead of her, and a morning of lost productivity behind her, she reluctantly decided that principle would have to fall victim to practicality, and paid the citation.
Several questions come to mind:
1) If one doesn’t have a beach tag while on the beach, standard procedure is for inspectors to sell them a tag. How then is it possible to EVER issue an $80 citation to someone not having a tag? Do you fine black people but not whites? College kids but not "well-to-do" older folks? Where do they draw the line? There is nothing worse — and more dangerous — than selective enforcement.
2) What ever happened to the "customer being right?" Avalon would be nothing without the people who patronize businesses, buy and rent houses, and recommend the town to friends. So how could the town’s "bread and butter" be treated so poorly?
And as proof that this wasn’t an isolated event, there were at least five other incidents with this particular beach-brat inspector that day, including one woman who had to give her pocketbook to the inspector as collateral while she fetched her tag on her chair.
Avalon, like most governments, has laws and regulations on the books that make darn near everything a violation.
Games on the beach? Can’t do it. Throw a ball in the ocean? Nope. Have a gas grill on your deck? Don’t even think about it.
All against the law, but virtually never enforced.
Government should never have ordinances which are selectively enforced.
This breeds contempt for the system and leads to widespread abuse by overzealous wannabes on a power-trip.
There are many good things about Avalon, but, as is always the case, they are overshadowed by the bad. The city fathers would be wise to eliminate all but the necessary ordinances, and start remembering who makes the town what it is.
The forgotten taxpayer.
Author’s Note: I have NEVER been one to use the media pulpit for personal reasons, which is why I chose not to reveal that it was Yours Truly who was involved in Beachtag-gate, and why I waited until AFTER the court date to write about an issue to which so many relate. In the weeks since the event, I have been (anecdotally) swamped by similar tales from Avalon patrons. The only way for governments to change is for people to voice their concerns, so please email me with concerns or thoughts.
Chris Freind is an independent columnist and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com
Readers of his column, "Freindly Fire," hail from six continents, thirty countries and all fifty states. His work has been referenced in numerous publications including The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, foreign newspapers, and in Dick Morris’ recent bestseller "Catastrophe."
Freind also serves as a weekly guest commentator on the Philadelphia-area talk radio show, Political Talk (WCHE 1520), and makes numerous other television and radio appearances. He can be reached at [email protected]