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.”

Midway Station developer gets a Dec. 1 deadline

By Al Cross
Director, Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

The developer who signed a contract to turn Midway Station from a failed industrial park into a housing and commercial development will have until Dec. 1 to close the deal or forfeit some extra money he has put on the table in uncertain economic times.

The Woodford County Economic Development Authority, which owns the property, signed a deal in January 2008 to sell the property to Anderson Communities once it was rezoned and its initial construction plans were approved. The city council rezoned it last fall, but Anderson has not filed his construction plans with the county zoning office, leaving the city and county each on the hook for annual interest payments of more than $185,000 a year for a project that has created almost no jobs.

EDA Chair Michael Duckworth told the council last night that with the help of a mediator, EDA and Anderson have reached an agreement that calls for him to advance the authority $250,000 and sign a note for $100,000, payable on the new, proposed closing date of Dec. 1. If the deal does not close, Anderson will lose the money, as well as the $100,000 deposit he paid last year when he first agreed to buy the property.

If the deal does close, and the property changes hands, the $450,000 will be applied to the purchase price of about $6 million. Of that amount, $1 million would not be due until Dec. 1, 2014, as opposed to two years after the closing date, as called for in the original agreement. The $1 million deferred payment is intended to help the city and county recoup their interest and other costs incurred since buying the property in 2000.

That proposed delay drew no objections at the council meeting. Rather, city officials seemed more interested in when EDA would start using Anderson's money to take over the interest payments, which are costing the city $511 a day. "I think it's very important those interest payments are paid, for us," Mayor Tom Bozarth said.

Duckworth said that if the EDA board approves the agreement at its next meeting Friday, it would make the semi-annual interest payment due in June. He said the negotiations with Anderson effectively made the deadline to close the deal six months earlier. "Certainly, it's not as quick as any of us had anticipated," he said, but added that the negotiations showed the good faith of all parties.

"I think you represented us well," Council Member Charlann Wombles told Duckworth.

In addition to the $450,000 Anderson now has on the table, he is also on the hook for $280,000 worth of engineering work to develop the construction plans, which the new agreement requires him to file by Oct. 15, EDA attorney Jim Rouse told the council. The new deal, unlike the old one, is not dependent on approval of the plans by zoning office staff, Rouse said.

While it is a had time for many developers, Rouse and Duckworth said in an interview that Anderson has never used poor economic conditions as an excuse for his lack of progress on the project. Asked if they think Anderson will develop Midway Station, Rouse asked if the questioner knew what the Dow Jones industrial stock average, a key economic barometer, will be on Dec. 1. But "The more investment he has," Rouse said, the more likely the developer is to close the deal.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Scores of artists in 'family' of Damselfly gallery

By Ashley Trosper
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

For Eric and Mary Thoreson, artisanship and kinship are one and the same.

As the owners of Damselfly Studio and Gallery in Midway, they say honesty, loyalty and trust are keys to keeping their business going.

Damselfly, which has been around for four years now, has about 150 artists in its family, according to Eric. On any given day, the gallery houses work from 150 to more than 200 artists, mostly Kentuckians or other regional artisans, he said. Anything from pottery or glassware to paintings and jewelry can be found at the quaint shop on Main Street. (Read more)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Sunday alcohol sales get first-reading approval

By Meghan Quigley
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Woodford County Fiscal Court voted 6-2 in favor Tuesday night on first reading of the ordinance to allow Sunday alcohol sales in Midway and the rest of Woodford County outside Versailles.

Voting for the ordinance were Magistrates Larry Craig of Midway, Ellen Gormley, Geoff Reid, Gerald Dotson, Jim Staples and Steve Barnett, who was absent at the last meeting. Charles “Bones” Webber and Jackie Brown voted no, as they did at the last meeting on Craig’s motion to draft the ordinance.

The ordinance would allow alcohol sales from 1 to 10 p.m. on Sundays and would include sales of packaged alcohol in stores as well as restaurants. Midway restaurants are the leading proponents of the change.

The City Council in Versailles, where three restaurants asked for the change, turned down Sunday sales on a tie vote a few weeks ago. Versailles makes some of its own alcohol rules but Midway’s are governed by Fiscal Court. Midway’s population of 1,620 makes it a fifth-class city, which prohibits its city council from making its own decision on the issue.

“Fiscal Court wanted Versailles to take the first step, but they rejected it,” said Bill Van Den Dool, owner of The Black Tulip, one of five Midway restaurants that have asked for Sunday sales, primarily saying that it would boost tourist business.

“I feel good about it,” Van Den Dool said in an interview. “I believe it’s going to happen and that is going to put the pressure on Versailles.”

Midway restaurants say they need Sunday sales to compete with restaurants in Lexington and Frankfort, especially with the World Equestrian Games coming in 2010. The council in Georgetown, the same distance from Midway as the other two cities, passed a Sunday-sales ordinance Monday night.

According to the Georgetown News-Graphic, the Georgetown ordinance will allow Sunday sales only by the drink. Several council members said approving Sunday sales was not an easy decision, but necessary considering the economic downturn and a $1 million city budget shortfall. It has been estimated that Sunday sales will generate $15,000 in added yearly revenue for the city.

The Woodford County ordinance is also not without opponents, though none spoke at Tuesday night’s meeting. Craig said in an earlier interview that regardless of his personal opinion, his job is to represent the people in Midway and this is what they asked him to do. “If we’re going to do it, let’s start now,” he said. “If we’re going to attract people to these restaurants, we’ve got to be competitive with our surrounding cities.”

Brown, who lives on McCowan's Ferry Road between Versailles and Mortonsville, said in an earlier interview, “I have a strong belief that we don’t need it. We don’t need to be selling on Sundays. It’s sabbath day, we already do it six days a week.”

In October, Midway restaurants Bistro La Belle, The Black Tulip, Holly Hill Inn, Darlin’ Jeans and Quirk gave Fiscal Court a petition to allow Sunday sales. The Heirloom restaurant has since joined the bandwagon.

Craig told The Woodford Sun that the ordinance should also allow retail sales, to avoid what he called discrimination between retailers and restaurants. He told the newspaper that if restaurant sales were approved, retailers would ask for the privilege. "Do it all at once, be done with it," he said. "Or turn it down, all at once, and be done with it." The license fee would be $300 for restaurants and $125 for package stores.

Mark Wombles, owner of Heirloom, said in an interview that alcohol sales on Sunday coincide with alcohol sales in general. “They should legalize it or take it away completely,” he said.

To those who oppose the ordinance for religious reasons, Van Den Dool said, “I respect everyone’s opinion, but they can’t push those beliefs on other people. . . . It gives us the opportunity to generate more revenue on Sundays.”

UPDATE, March 25: A second reading was expected to come March 24. Instead, magistrates heard first reading of a revised ordinance, removing fees for retailers, on advice of state officials. A second reading is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 14.

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.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Panel meets on volunteer ordinance; arts event coordinator disputes assertions

The Ordinance and Policy Committee of the Midway City Council met yesterday evening to work on the ordinance dealing with volunteer work in the city. At about 3:30, two hours before the scheduled start of the meeting, a notice went out from City Hall saying that the meeting had been canceled. City employees said later that the notice was supposed to be that a regular meeting of the council had been canceled, but a misunderstanding between them led to the incorrect notice being posted. The notice meant that Midway Messenger reporters who were going to cover the meeting did not.

Tonight, Marcie Christensen, event coordinator of the Francisco's Farm Arts Festival for Midway Renaissance, posted a comment on the blog item the Midway Messenger ran in advance of the committee's last meeting, on Feb. 23. She disputes several assertions or assumptions made at that meeting. For example, she says "The City's insurance policy already covers volunteers if they are injured while working on City property" and "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."

Her concluding comment: "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." To read her entire comment, click here or go to the original blog item and click on the Comment line.