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Business owner fights for his rights

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For Michael Morgan, the issue is rights.

“It’s my right as a business owner to say you can come into my business or my home whenever you like. It’s your right as a free individual under the Constitution and just freedom in general that you can travel and move where you want to go,” Morgan said.

Morgan owns TR Fitness facilities in Farmington, Aurora, Branson and Mountain Grove with plans for a fifth in Neosho.

He fought for his rights regarding private property and his right to keep his businesses open and to avoid bankruptcy during Missouri’s stay at home order.

“From the very beginning, I started fighting this. Many gyms just shut their doors and shut their doors early. They didn’t even fight for it. I kept saying it doesn’t matter how

many people get infected. I own this facility. This is unconstitutional. They don’t have the right to do this, and nobody owns your property except yourself,” Morgan said.

The fight to stay open was easier in Mountain Grove thanks, in part, to his location.

“I was pretty fortunate in Mountain Grove because I’m right outside the city limits, but that didn’t stop a lot of people from coming to take pictures. People absolutely overreacted to everything,” Morgan said.

He said the overreactions did not end with photos. “We had people calling my number from places like New York and stuff driving by on the highway and seeing people working out and wanting to start arguments with us, wanting to know why we’re still open,” Morgan said.

He said he consulted Wright County Sheriff Glenn Adler.

“I made contact with the sheriff, who I’ve known for a long time, and he basically said if you’re following the state guidelines – which we were, the CDC guidelines – you’re fine, so it didn’t affect Mountain Grove as much as the others. We didn’t really see a huge loss in people signing up or anything like that, but we saw a lot of people staying home,” Morgan said.

Morgan has not been told of any members having COVID-19 in the approximate 4,500 members at his gyms. He said the numbers do not limit his rights. “I’ve always approached this like anything else. I’ve never cared how many people got the virus. I do care, but that doesn’t affect my private property freedoms. I own private property, and I have the deed to these facilities just like you would your house. If I want to allow people to come in and out of my facilities, I deem that as my private property,” Morgan said.

Morgan said he is willing to give up his freedom to preserve his right to open his doors in cities that try to force him to close and for his members to exercise their rights to enter his facilities.

“I’ve had a lot more problems with the other locations in the state of Missouri, but Mountain Grove was one that I just stood a firm line, and I didn’t care. I was willing to go to jail, and I still am for Mountain Grove. If they do another shut down, I am 100 percent going to jail. I’m not shutting down any of my facilities in the state of Missouri without me being in a jail cell. I’m just not going to do it,” Morgan said.

Morgan said it is the small local governments that are infringing on the rights of individuals.

“I’ve talked to three lawyers, and they’ve told me ‘Yes, this is unconstitutional. They cannot do it, but they’re going to get away with it,’” Morgan said.

Being outside the city limits of Mountain Grove made his fight easier than with local governments in other locations.

“My other facilities were much more complicated because I had threatened law suits. They gave me a cease and desist in one location, and the Health Department showed up. It’s been a mess in some other facilities,” Morgan said.

The financial impact on Morgan, had he closed all four businesses, would have been dire.

“If I had shut down like they told me to, I would be bankrupt. I have four locations, and I shut one of them down for two weeks, and then I shut another one down in Branson for one month,” Morgan said.

Morgan said he shut his Branson facility because the City shut down all of Branson. With so few people working, some canceled their memberships.

“I was better off canceling until people got their stimulus checks,” Morgan said.

In Aurora, it was a tougher fight that caused a two-week closure before he reopened. “The police department showed up at my facility in Aurora and forced me to shut down, and I was in the process of suing the City of Aurora, and they let us open up after two weeks. They just got flooded with phone calls and so on until they finally said ‘Hey, take safety measures and you can open back up,’ but it was because we fought,” Morgan said.

Morgan said two health departments had asked him about the cleaning and disinfecting procedures at his businesses.

“First off, I laughed at that because there’s not a consensus of anything that works for the virus and they don’t even know how people are getting it. They’re saying eight foot, 10 foot, six foot, wear a mask, don’t wear a mask, so nobody actually knows,” Morgan said.

Morgan said a clean facility for members has always been a priority with managers spending their days cleaning and signing up new members.

“We sanitize all of our equipment. We not only sanitize our equipment on a daily basis and bleach everything, including the floors, but we also have sanitation stations for people to use, so as soon as they’re done with a piece of equipment, they can sanitize it themselves, or if they say nobody’s sanitized this since someone used it, they can go pick up sanitizer and sanitize it themselves. We use sanitizer and we use bleach and we hit it daily. On top of that, we were following the CDC guidelines where only 10 people could come into the facility at a time,” Morgan said.

Morgan said that given the size of his facility, 7,500 square feet, the 10-person limit made it rare that people would be near each other. He said the experts have not come to a firm consensus regarding wearing masks.

“When people act like everyone should be wearing masks, I’ve been reading all over the news now that people’s breathing in their own CO2 is killing them because it’s destroying the alkaline in the body. The government is always one month behind the facts and actual truths,” Morgan said.

For Morgan, wearing a mask is a choice and not necessarily a healthy one.

“My thing is these people are free to do what they want. If they’re sick, you need to stay home. If you feel like everybody needs to wear a mask, you stay home and wear a mask, but there is nothing healthy about being in a fitness center environment, wearing a mask, breathing in your own CO2 where you’re sweating, where you’re breathing where you’re contaminating that mask, and most people don’t have multiple masks that they can put on each time they walk in and out of an environment. These people are wearing masks that A. don’t do anything for them and B. are contaminated and making them touch their face more than they ever would before,” Morgan said.

It comes down to rights for Morgan and his willingness to fight for them.

He said he saw some of his friends in Branson, also business owners, are going out of business because, he believes, they did not fight against being closed early enough.

“It’s not about fighting once they take your rights away. It’s about fighting before you ever close down, and that’s what I tried to do when a lot of people didn’t. People are adults, and they can decide whether they come and go within my facility. That’s the end of it. Either we have private property rights or we do not,” Morgan said.

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