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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Fire-hydrant flushing set for week of April 27 - May 1

The Midway Water Works Department will flush fire hydrants Monday, April 27, through Friday, May 1, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day. Several fire hydrants in an area will be opened simultaneously to increase water flow, in order to clean out mineral deposits and sediment. Residents may notice cloudy water, but the cloudiness should pass shortly, and the water will be safe to drink. However, the water should be allowed to clear before doing laundry. "The City of Midway is not responsible for laundry being damaged during the hydrant-flushing period," says a notice from City Hall. For more information, call 846- 4413.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Midway and Versailles, on 4-2 votes, OK another try at emergency-management agreement with county

By Paige Hobbs
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

After a lively debate, the Midway City Council voted 4-2 Monday night to approve a proposed agreement for emergency management between Versailles, Woodford County, and Midway. The proposed agreement, which Versailles likewise approved Tuesday night, is aimed at resolving an impasse over funding of the program.

The council also heard plans to raise garbage rates slightly and discussed plans for a public forum on the proposed “fairness ordinance” to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The proposed emergency-management agreement would resolve the impasse over funding by bringing into the formula the $30,000 that the county gets each year from the state for the program. It would reduce Midway’s contribution by $1,950 and Versailles’ by $10,320, based on population.

Council Members Steven Craig and Libby Warfield opposed the agreement, noting that the council had no role in preparing it.

Craig and Warfield asked how the document, circulated by Versailles Council Member Ken Kerkhoff, could be considered interlocal if Midway had no part in drafting it. “We didn’t help draft it, so we were left out of the process,” said Craig. He argued for Midway to draft its own interlocal agreement and present it to Versailles and the county.

Vandegrift noted that the county ended the negotiations two weeks ago with a vote of 5-4 in fiscal court. Craig said the court wouldn’t approve the revised agreement, but Vandegrift said four magistrates had “voted to keep talking” and one of the others may have been confused.

The emergency management program prepares for disaster before it occurs and does not include first responders: police, fire and ambulance services. Council Members Sara Hicks and Kaye Nita Gallagher gave scenarios to show how first responders would not be affected in the proposed agreement.

Hicks asked if the Bluegrass Emergency Response Team would still engage with Midway if it were to break away from the county program. Craig said it would still participate with Midway. Gallagher asked if a tornado were to come through Midway in the next two months, if the county first responders would still participate. Council Member Bruce Southworth said they would.

Craig said he agreed with putting the state money in to the formula but deflected Southworth’s question of what other parts of the agreement he disagreed with. He focused on the fact that Midway was not involved in drafting it. He asked, “You’re asking us to vote in what Versailles said?” 

Vandegrift said someone needed to draft and propose an agreement, and that a group effort by each governing body, drafting and presenting their own, would take years.

The agreement states that Midway will pay 6.5 percent of the program's $132,000 cost, reflecting its share of the county’s population, minus the $1,950 credit for the county's state funding.

Midway and Versailles have been miffed that county officials did not mention the state funding in earlier years. Then-Mayor Tom Bozarth confirmed and revealed it through an open-records request last year.

Vandegrift said the debate has not been over money: “The argument is that the budget raises every year, it has raised 33 percent in five years. . . . And the question is, are we spending way more money than what we need to spend? We spend more money around us than any other county, besides Fayette” on emergency management.

This is the latest in a series of conflicts between Midway and the county, and county magistrates raised old issues during the negotiations, said Southworth, who was on the negotiating committee with Craig. He sai the county drafted an agreement, and sent it to the council as a “take it or leave it” offer, after only lowering the per-capita fee by one cent.

If no agreement is passed by the county, it would serve notice that the current agreement will be ended and Midway would have 90 days to draft a “Plan B” with Versailles. Vandegrift explained.
“I would hope it would go before the fiscal court next Tuesday,” he said. “It’s an agreement I think could work for us.”

Council Member Daniel Roller agreed: “I think we have a possible workable solution here and if we try it and it doesn’t work, we go to the next thing.”

The Versailles City Council approved the agreement on a 4-2 vote Tuesday night, after a discussion that was much like Midway’s, with Council Member Ann Miller questioning many parts of the agreement and saying Kerkhoff had no authority to offer it.

In other business at the Midway meeting, Roller reported that his Finance, Ordinance and Policy Committee met last Tuesday and made changes to the proposed fairness ordinance. Roller provided copies of the document to the council. It can be downloaded by clicking here.

Vandegrift said a public forum to discuss the ordinance will take place around mid-May. Warfield asked why Vandegrift wanted to have a public forum about this issue before it is formally presented to the full council for action.

“It’s a very controversial topic; it tugs at people’s heart strings,” said Vandegrift. “That’s why I want to have public input first. I think it would be a good idea for you to hear from your community before you vote on it.”

Vandegrift presented an ordinance that would increase garbage rates by 5 cents a month for residential customers, to $12, and by $1.70 for businesses, to $25.50. Businesses get two pickups per week. No action was taken.

The council accepted a bid from Wilson’s Nurseries of Frankfort for the planters and hanging baskets downtown. After receiving only two offers, the second from Simply Garden of Frankfort, Hicks suggested putting the ad for bids out sooner. This could increase the offers received, and give the businesses more time to prepare the baskets, she said.

The council also approved, contingent on proof of insurance, an event permit for the Bluegrass Cycling Club for the Horsey Hundred Bicycle Event to be held Saturday, May 23 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Council committee removes religious-freedom and free-speech exceptions from anti-discrimination ordinance

A city council committee decided Tuesday not to include in Midway's proposed "fairness ordinance" language similar to that of Indiana's "restoration of religious freedom" law and a provision that attempted to draw a line between freedom of expression and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The Finance, Ordinance and Policy Committee rejected language offered by city attorney Phil Moloney that said "No action taken under or required by this ordinance shall burden a person's freedom of religion" and "The right to act or refuse to act in a manner motivated by a sincerely held religious belief may not be burdened unless it is proven by clear and convincing evidence that the government has a compelling interest in infringing the specific act or refusal to act and has used the least restrictive means to further that interest."

Moloney said the language, which means that the government can only intervene in disputes involving religious beliefs if it can prove it has a good reason and if it interferes as little as possible, was taken from a Kentucky law and a federal law.

Council Member Dan Roller, the committee chair, said he saw no need to include it. "The way it's written here allows you to discriminate," he said.

Mayor Grayson Vandegrift, who proposed the ordinance and sat in on the meeting, agreed. "You could never determine what a sincerely held religious belief is," he said. Vandegrift said some people believe that homosexuality is a sin, but "If you do, divorce is also a sin. Living together before you're married is a sin," and both those classes of people would be protected by the ordinance's ban on "familial status" discrimination. "I feel like this sin is being singled out. . . . It's the crux of the issue, to me."

Committee and Council Member Sara Hicks generally agreed, saying that protection of religious beliefs could go too far: "Some religious think you should stone a woman if someone rapes her."

Moloney said Danville's fairness ordinance, one of those from which the committee told him to draw, includes similar language. "This is your-all's decision," he said. "There's a delicate balancing act." He said issues with such ordinances "seem to come up in the service areas, when people are being asked to participate in activities or events or to disseminate a message that they disagree with because of religious beliefs," such as photography, cakes and floral arrangements for weddings.

Roller said, "I don't remember cakes or photography being discussed in the Bible, and I don't see how they're religious issues here, and I don't think we're writing a law to address religious issues. We're dealing with discrimination, is what we're dealing with here. And if there's a state law that is already a protection of religion, then that's a state law and they can go to the state for that. . . . It's the state's burden, not our burden."

Committee and Council Member Bruce Southworth replied, "Well, it would become our burden. If something was filed, the state law would have to come up. I'm just saying if there is a case, this is going to supersede it anyway. . . . It doesn't matter to me."

Roller asked if there has been any court cases involving the state law, and Moloney said he knew of none.

"Put it in or take it out; it doesn't matter," Southworth said. "To me, it's more of a moral issue than it is discrimination or anything else. . . . Everybody ought to be nice to everybody."

The rejected language is similar to part of the original version of Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which the state's legislature dropped after some state and national business leaders said it would allow businesses to discriminate. The final version of the Indiana law says it does not authorize anyone to refuse to provide services, public accommodations, housing, facilities, goods or employment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, U.S. military service, sex, sexual orientation or gender identity.

After the committee dealt with relatively minor corrections and future plans, and moved to adjourn, the Midway Messenger asked Moloney about the grammar and purpose of a section saying the ordinance would not apply "with regards to sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity" to "Infringing upon the right of free speech- expression of a provider of goods or services not to be compelled to express a message with which they disagree."

Moloney said of the latter section, "I need to clean that up."

Vandegrift said he read the ungrammatical language to mean that "You don't have to provide services if you disagree with the message." He said it could apply to Ku Klux Klan T-shirts advocating "white power." In 2012, the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission determined that a screen-printing firm had violated the city's fairness ordinance by refusing to print T-shirts for a gay pride event.

Moloney said that without such an exception, "basically you're compelling a person to participate in an event and to at least give the impression that they're promoting or advocating an activity that they may disagree with because of their religious beliefs." But he said such people could rely on the state law.

The committee agreed to remove the language.

Moloney said he might be able to complete the redrafting by Friday, in time to include it in the packet of materials for Monday night's council meeting. The committee agreed that action should be delayed until the local Human Rights Commission, which requested the ordinance, could review it, and until Vandegrift's promised public forum on the ordinance can be held.

"It's important that we really know what our Midway residents have to say about it," Hicks said.

If the council passes the ordinance, Midway would be the eighth Kentucky city with such a law, and the first to enact one since controversy about the law in Indiana and a similar one in Arkansas.

City council to begin budget deliberations at 5:30

The Midway City Council will begin consideration this evening of the city budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The budget workshop will begin at 5:30 p.m. and is open to the public, just like any other council meeting. A copy of the rough draft budget, which has not been balanced, can be downloaded by clicking here.

Committee decides not to recommend further conservation easement for land along Lee's Branch

A city council committee decided Monday evening that Midway should not give up control of seven wooded acres along Lee’s Branch in return for state money that can be used to make the tract usable by the public but maintain its natural state.

Two of the three members of the Cemetery and City Property Committee, Steven Craig and Libby Warfield, opposed the idea suggested by committee chair Sara Hicks and Zeb Weese of the state Land Heritage Conservation Fund, which could provide up to $15,000 for clearing and trailmaking.

Hicks said giving the state a conservation easement would further protect the property and attract tourists. She noted that the state fund has preserved no land in Woodford County, and that few towns have such property inside their borders.

Craig and Warfield said said they did not want to tie the hands of future city councils and mayors, and the property is already protected by a conservation easement that gave the city control of the land in 1991.

It prohibits “industrial and commercial activity” on the land but allows farming and “recreational activities approved by the City of Midway,” subject to certain requirements. It allows the city to build “facilities deemed necessary and appropriate by the City of Midway,” including access roads and “recreational and community facilities, and accessory structures,” including fences, which apparently could not be done under the state easement.

Hicks said that under the previous city administration, city employees mowed grass too close along the creek rather than maintaining the banks in a natural state. Warfield said, "We can stop them from doing those things."

Warfield displayed plans for a trail area, footbridge and Gratz Street improvements that were drawn in 2007, estimating construction costs of $122,000 to $171,000. She said there was no money for it at the time, but said she thought that the city would eventually have money for the project.

College announces new MBA specialties, other degrees

Midway College announced new graduate and undergraduate programs that will be offered beginning this summer.

 “The new programs are specializations within the existing Master of Business Administration in equine studies, health care administration and sport management,” the college said in a press release. A master of education program will also start this summer.

"Midway has offered an undergraduate Equine Studies degree for many years,” Dr. Charles Williams, dean of the School of Business, Equine and Sport Studies, said in the release. “We believe that the specialization of equine studies within our MBA program will be attractive to and beneficial for Kentucky's equine industry.”

Williams added, "Additionally the health care administration concentration within the MBA provides an important industry segment in our region."

The new undergraduate program is a bachelor’s degree in psychology with an area of concentration in alcohol and drug abuse counseling. “This concentration will add specific courses in substance abuse and counseling for graduates to obtain licensing as an alcohol and drug counselor in the commonwealth of Kentucky,” Ellen Gregory, the college's vice president of marketing and communications, said in the release. The psychology program will be offered on weekends in Hamburg at the college’s Lexington location, to better accommodate working students. 

The college said it is working on other areas of concentration for its MBA program, looking at degrees in health care. “These new programs will supplement other majors that were recently added including marketing communication and criminal justice,” the release said.

The College’s three-year strategic plan includes development of new programs. "Each time we add a new degree offering we look at what the regional needs are for employers and try to match those needs with degrees that lead to careers,” said Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Laura Armesto. --Megan Ingros

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Fairness ordinance draft has religious exceptions like Indiana law, and provision saying no message shall be compelled; mayor says they would defeat the purpose

By Anthony Pendleton
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

City attorney Phil Moloney’s draft of an ordinance to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity includes language similar to that of Indiana's "restoration of religious freedom" law, which caused a national controversy.

Other language in the ordinance, which advocates call a "fairness ordinance," attempts to draw a line between freedom of expression and discrimination.

Grayson Vandegrift
The Midway Messenger requested a copy of the draft from Mayor Grayson Vandegrift, who proposed the ordinance but expressed strong reservations about the language that reflected the Indiana legislation.

Under Section Five of the draft, it would be illegal to deny "goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations "on the basis of "race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, gender identity, or sexual orientation."

However, Section Five says it does not apply "with regards to sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity" to such things as restrooms, dormitories and other facilities segregated by sex, and Section Five-E applies that exception to "Infringing upon the right of free speech- expression of a provider of goods or services not to be compelled to express a message with which they disagree." For a PDF of the draft, click here.

This exception means that a person or a business would not have to sell or make something if they disagree with the product's message. For example, Lexington T-shirt company Hands On Originals refused to print shirts for the annual Lexington Pride Festival in 2012. Later that year, the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission determined that the company had violated the city's fairness ordinance by discriminating based on sexual orientation. Under Section Five of Midway's ordinance, that would not be a violation.

Phil Moloney (2011 photo)
Section Eight of the draft ordinance says, "No action taken under or required by this ordinance shall burden a person's freedom of religion." It goes on to say that "The right to act or refuse to act in a manner motivated by a sincerely held religious belief may not be burdened unless it is proven by clear and convincing evidence that the government has a compelling interest in infringing the specific act or refusal to act and has used the least restrictive means to further that interest." This means that the government can only intervene in disputes involving religious beliefs if it can prove it has a good reason and if it interferes as little as possible.

The language in Section Eight is similar to part of the original version of Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which the Indiana legislature dropped after some business interests said it would allow businesses to discriminate against people in the LGBT community. Angie's List, which is based in Indianapolis, put off plans to expand its headquarters. Apple CEO Tim Cook, who is openly gay, criticized the bill in a Washington Post piece, saying "This isn’t a political issue. It isn’t a religious issue. This is about how we treat each other as human beings."

The final version of the Indiana law says it does not authorize anyone to refuse to provide services, public accommodations, housing, facilities, goods or employment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, U.S. military service, sex, sexual orientation or gender identity.

The draft of the Midway ordinance does not include the original Section 9 of RFRA, which stated that "A person whose exercise of religion has been substantially burdened, or is likely to be substantially burdened, by a violation of this chapter may assert the violation or impending violation as a claim or defense in a judicial or administrative proceeding, regardless of whether the state or any other governmental entity is a party to the proceeding." This would have allowed a person to use religious freedom as a defense in court.

Asked about the source of the language, Moloney said, "It's either language that I composed or it may have come from some other ordinances we had taken a look at."

Asked if any city council members had anything to do with the language, Moloney said, "I've had a committee member express some reservations."

The ordinance is being considered by the council’s Finance, Ordinance and Policy Committee, chaired by Council Member Dan Roller. Council Members Sara Hicks and Bruce Southworth are also on the committee.

Vandegrift emphasized that the ordinance is still in the draft phase, saying "I suspect the committee is gonna probably pull some things and probably add some things."

Vandegrift said he doesn't agree with all of the language in the two sections. "I don't want to speak for the committee, but in my opinion, [Section Five-E] and the passage in Section Eight kinda defeat the whole purpose of the ordinance."

The committee will meet Tuesday at 2 p.m. at City Hall to discuss the draft.