Monday, March 23, 2009

Council gives first reading to lighter ordinance on volunteer work, but volunteers still object

By Ashley Brooke Trosper
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

The Midway City Council heard the first official reading tonight of a controversial ordinance concerning volunteer work on city property. The ordinance has some significant differences from the original draft.

The former draft would have required all volunteers to sign a waiver of liability. The current version would require that volunteers sign a waiver only if using “motorized or mechanized equipment, including, but not limited to, weed eaters, powered pruners and trimmers, wood chippers, chain saws, mowers and tractors,” or if working in isolation or at heights, including ladders, “or in any manner that causes concern of an increased risk of injury of a volunteer because of either the nature of the work or tools to be used.”

The ordinance also says those wishing to volunteer on city property must obtain approval through a written work request. The requests would be approved by the council or its “designee,” who would also have the authority to require supervision, depending on the project.

Council member Charlann Wombles said the council has not decided who the designee would be, but it could be the city clerk or a council member. “We just want to make this as easy as we can,” she said.

Midway Renaissance President Randy Thomas said he still hopes the council will reconsider the need for such an ordinance. “Hopefully by the second reading they will rethink it,” he said after leaving the meeting.

First reading was scheduled for last month but was delayed after Thomas voiced concern about it as the meeting was about to begin. Then the council’s Ordinance and Policy Committee decided to lighten the waiver rule, after some community members raised concerns that if such a requirement was in place, there would be a decrease in volunteerism.

“We don’t want to, and I don’t think you do either, to discourage anyone from volunteering,” Thomas told the council last night. He was the only person to discuss the ordinance during the meeting.
Thomas said after leaving the meeting that he and other Renaissance board members think the volunteer ordinance is not in the best interest of the city and volunteers. “We’ve always had a good system,” he said. “This could negatively impact the volunteers. That’s something we believe.”

Thomas said he understands the needs of the Kentucky League of Cities, Midway’s insurance provider, but feels that the ordinance is not the only way to cover the basis.

“We clearly don’t oppose what the insurance carrier needs to know,” he said. “We’ve not been able to find anyone else who has an ordinance. It’s not the only way. We agree on providing information like how many people, where the volunteering is taking place and what is happening. We are okay with other avenues.”

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