Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Council OKs ordinance regulating volunteer work

By Sarah Livesay
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

The Midway City Council passed a much-debated ordinance concerning volunteer work on city property Monday night by a vote of 5 to 1.

Sandra Cooke, the only member to oppose the ordinance, said she believed it was offensive to certain groups who volunteer in the community. "I think it hurts the feelings of some of the people who do most of our volunteer work," she said. "I think some of them feel it's aimed specifically at them, and makes them feel powerless in all this, and that bothers me."

Council member Diana Queen said the ordinance seems targeted because it mentions certain types of work, and questioned whether it needed to be so specific.

City attorney Phil Moloney said he didn't write the ordinance to target anyone, and said it would simplify the process of getting volunteer projects approved. Before the ordinance was passed, volunteer groups went before the City Council to be approved, but now approval can be granted via e-mail, he said.

Council Member Charlann Wombles said, “This has absolutely no particular group in mind . . . I’m sorry there is a group taking offense.” The group to which Cooke and Wombles were referring was not disclosed, but at prior meetings people with Midway Renaissance made the most frequent cases against the ordinance as drafted.

Those complaints resulted in some relaxation of the first draft. “We’ve had a lot better ordinance tonight than when we started,” Wombles said.

Moloney said riskier projects, as specified in the ordinance, should be supervised in order to protect the volunteers. The ordinance also says the city may require volunteers to sign a waiver of liability. The original version, proposed in February, would have required waivers in all cases, but was softened after complaints from volunteers.

"From a city attorney approach," Moloney said, "I would say everyone needs to sign a waiver." He said the process would be simple. The head of the volunteer group would sign the waiver and as volunteers show up, their names and addresses would be recorded. Moloney said that would thwart claims by people that they were injured on a project on which they did not work.

Moloney said Midway’s insurance plan covers volunteers like it covers city workers — limited to medical protection, under workers' compensation — and if volunteers don't adhere to the ordinance, they may not get that protection. "This is not to penalize the volunteers but to provide them some sort of insurance protection," he said.

Council Member Doris Leigh said, “More volunteers will come if we have something to protect them.” She said she had received several calls in favor of the ordinance.

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