Working up a sweat as he went about his business, 12-year-old Patrick MacGregor shined shoes for sheriff's deputies, judges and the public outside the Hernando County Government Center, charging $2 a job.
He had started working a regular schedule this week. A cardboard sign announced his hours: Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday from about 9 in the morning until early afternoon. He was saving money to travel with his father on a missionary trip to Iowa in mid July, he said. His brother, Joe MacGregor, had done the same thing to raise money when he was 14 in the summer of 2006.
Everything was going along just fine until Wednesday afternoon.
In December 2006, the county put in place a policy that restricts uses at the government center and the adjoining historic courthouse. Anyone using personal property — like tents, booths or a shoeshine kit — must be insured against liability by a policy also listing the county, the rule states.
Patrick would have to leave.
Brenda Frazier, the county's community coordinator, said she flipped a coin with risk management coordinator Cristi Charlow to determine who would deliver the bad news to the young shoeshiner.
"I just sat down beside him, and right away he smiled and asked me if I wanted my shoes shined," Frazier said. "I told him, 'You're not in trouble, but there's a policy.' "
Most people at the government center seemed sorry to see Patrick go.
"I had my shoes shined yesterday, and the young man did a great job," said Clerk of the Court Don Barbee.
"It's a shame he had to go," said Omar DePablo, a planner with the county and one of Patrick's customers. "It was so good to see him showing initiative. He could be home playing video games."
Frazier said the county's policy was implemented to control petitioners and people plying trades, from selling jewelry to makeup, at the government center.
"If you open the door to one person, pretty soon it becomes an issue," she said.
Charlow said there were liability issues, as well.
"If someone were to trip or fall, they'd come back against the county," she said. "We're constantly having claims. We have to look out for the county and the citizen, and that policy adds a layer of protection."
Patrick's mother, Kathleen MacGregor, came to pick him up and spoke with Frazier.
"I want to respect the law," she said. "We can find other opportunities."
She said her son plans to scout downtown businesses for customers next week.
She described Patrick, a homeschooled student, as a hard-working boy who was also saving money to enroll in football this fall. She said he made about $150 during the three days he shined shoes at the government center.
"He doesn't shy away from any chance to make a dollar," she said, adding that he mows lawns, walks the dogs of neighbors and chops wood to be sold. "He's a good kid, kind of an entrepreneur."
Slayden MacGregor, Kathleen's husband and Patrick's father, is the pastor at Faith Evangelical Free Church in Spring Hill. He encouraged Patrick to raise cash for gas and motels for the church's trip to Iowa.
"We're going to go to the cities and knock on doors and have rallies and stuff," Patrick said. "I want to show God's love and save people."
Alison Barnwell can be reached at (352) 754-6114 or [email protected]