Monday, March 9, 2009

Committee writing a softer volunteer ordinance

By Bryan Kennedy
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

The Ordinance and Policy Committee of the Midway City Council plans to soften a draft ordinance that would affect the many volunteers in Midway. (From left: Members Sandra Locke, Sharon Turner and Charlann Womblesm and city attorney Phil Moloney)

The first version of the ordinance would have required all who volunteer to fill out a waiver releasing the city from liability for possible injury. The revised version would require waivers only in limited circumstances, such as work with motorized equipment or from heights.

Currently, a volunteer injured while helping out the city could sue the city for lost wages, medical bills and anything else they deem necessary. With the new ordinance the city will provide workers’ compensation, but will not pay for wages lost since the person isn’t technically an employee of the city.

Ned Wertz, an insurance agent for the Kentucky League of Cities Insurance Services, said at the committee's Feb. 23 meeting that the ordinance is vital for the city to comply with its insurance policy. He says the main objective of the ordinance is for volunteers to report to City Hall when they volunteer.

“The waiver can be signed by someone who’s using major equipment,” he said, “so if injury happens they won’t sue Midway and they will only receive worker’s comp.”

The first draft called for the waiver to include the proposed date, starting time and ending time for a project; a description of work being performed and equipment used, location, expected number of volunteers, and an acknowledgement that all volunteers for the project must execute a waiver and release of liability.

Some at the committee meeting on Feb. 23 said they believed that the ordinance would dampen the spirit of volunteerism in Midway.

“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,” Marcie Christensen, who coordinates the Francisco’s Farm Art Fair for Midway Renaissance, said in a comment on the Midway Messenger blog.

Christensen also said the ordinance seems to break the trust between citizen and government. “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.”

The city’s attorney, Phil Moloney, said he hopes citizens aren’t discouraged from volunteering.

“We want you to volunteer,” he told those at the meeting. “We just want to know who’s working, how many hours they’re working, what exactly they’re doing and what equipment they’re using.”

Moloney proposed that waivers could be presented in written form to city hall, or sent by e-mail so volunteers don’t have to present the waiver in person. Committee members indicated that they want to make this process as easy as possible.

Midway Renaissance President Randy Thomas, who attended the meeting, said he is pleased that the committee is meeting with community members, but also says this may hurt volunteering.

“Volunteers contribute a lot in this committee and I think in any community,” said Thomas. “And what you don’t want to do is put hindrances in their way.”

Council Member Charlann Wombles, the committee chair, said the ordinance will be good for all volunteers; including everyone from Boy Scouts to Greenspace, a Midway organization that restores urban forests.

“Previously volunteering has been very casual,” she said. “I think it’s going to be good for us to tighten everything up.”

The City Council’s next meeting will be Monday, March 23, rescheduled from March 16. Until then the old rules will still apply to volunteering, and those in attendance were told to defer scheduled volunteering activities. The Ordinance and Policy Committee agreed to work with Moloney and Wertz in the meantime to revise the ordinance.


Bob Rathbone said...

I attended the meeting and don't recall Ned Wertz ever saying "the ordinance is vital for the city to comply with its insurance policy".

Bryan said...

At the beginning of the committee meeting one of Wertz's final comments at the end of his presentation was that "the ordinance is vital for the city to comply with its insurance policy."

Marcie said...

I also attended the meeting and did not hear that quote from Ned Wertz. During the meeting I asked Mr. Wertz directly, "Does the insurance policy require the city have an ordinance." He replied, "No." I then asked whether the insurance policy requires volunteers sign waivers. He answered, "No." The committee meeting was audio-taped.

Bob Rathbone said...

Ned Wertz was clear that the ordinance was not necessary. He didn't object to an ordinance, but he didn't say "the ordinance is vital". I wonder if the reporter confused Mr. Wertz's comments with those from the City attorney. I've asked other's who attended; none of them recall Mr. Wertz saying this. Perhaps the audio tape would help clear this up.