Sunday, February 22, 2009

Ordinance would create paperwork for volunteers; committee meets on it 6 p.m. Monday, Feb. 23

By Amanda Currier
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

It was what was not said at the Midway City Council meeting last Monday that is sparking debate this week. Council members had planned to give first reading to a new ordinance, but were asked to take a second look by Midway Renaissance President Randy Thomas.

If passed the ordinance would require all Midway volunteers who intend to work on city property to sign a waiver and be approved by the council. Council Member Charlann Wombles says the ordinance does nothing more but make sure the city complies with insurance standards.

“The city is trying to maintain good insurance coverage and we have been recently looking at the requirements to meet in order to do that, and it has come to our attention that there are strict stipulations about volunteers working on city property,” Wombles said after the meeting.

However, Thomas says some of language in the ordinance should be looked over. He says strict regulations could cause the number of volunteers to decline.

“Volunteers contribute a tremendous amount in this community, I think in any community, and what you don’t want to do is put hindrances in that,” he said.

Wombles says that this is not meant to impair volunteers, but something they have to do. “We do not want to get ourselves into a position of where we’re having questions about whether or not we can be covered,” she said. “We cannot afford to get this community in that situation.”

Today, anyone wanting to volunteer on city property is not fully covered by the city’s insurance plan. Delaying the first reading of the ordinance could delay passage of it until late spring.

The draft of ordinance requires any group wanting to volunteer to complete a request that includes the date, time, and location where volunteers intend to work. Council member Sharon Turner says the request forms will be a good way to keep up with the amount of hours people volunteer in Midway. However, she does understand the hassle of more paperwork.

“It’s more paperwork and that’s what people don’t like,” she said. “People want to go straight to the work. “

After the meeting Wombles reminded Thomas how thankful the council is for everything Midway Renaissance does for the community.

A committee will meet at 6 p.m. Feb. 23 in the community room, upstairs at City Hall, to discuss the draft of the ordinance. Here's a video report with interviews of council members and Thomas:

1 comment:

Marcie Christensen - Event Coordinator said...

The proposed ordinance deserves comment, especially in light of remarks that opposition to the ordinance stems from the desire of volunteers to avoid burdensome paperwork.

Fact - Organized groups of volunteers already report regularly to the City, providing information on volunteer numbers, hours, and tasks.

Fact - the City's insurance policy already covers volunteers if they are injured while working on City property.

Fact - the City's insurance policy does not require that the City pass a law to regulate volunteers, nor does it require volunteers to sign waivers holding the City harmless in the event of an injury.

There are excellent reasons to track the work of volunteers. The information is useful in grant applications (volunteer work has a recognized dollar value), in award nominations (individuals and groups have been honored and publicly recognized for their generous contributions), and in building community (volunteers on a project are contacted again when similar opportunities arise - volunteers become friends and enjoy working together to improve their community).

After attending the February 23rd meeting of the Ordinance Committee, I began folding chairs and returning them to the storage closet without a thought. I suddenly realized that what I was doing was in direct violation of the proposed ordinance. I was performing volunteer work on City property without the pre-authorization and supervision required by the proposed ordinance.

The proposed ordinance is unfortunate, unnecessary, unenforceable, and insulting to the community. It says, "We want to be sure that if you get hurt on City property you won't sue us," instead of "We want to know how many hours of your valuable time you are giving to the City so we can protect and acknowledge your contributions."

The proposed ordinance erodes trust between this small government and its relatively few citizens, and dampens the great spirit of volunteerism that has made this community shine.

To the claim that "Our society has become more litigious so we have to protect ourselves from lawsuits," can we not say, "Actually, there's no evidence the citizens of Midway have become more likely to file lawsuits. Let us stand up for trusting ourselves and our neighbors."

When we give credence and power to those who would see citizens and their government as adversaries, we give up the precious spirit of trust and goodwill that has been created over generations. Let us keep this spirit.