April 2, 2024 at 12:14 a.m.
Portland City Council

Stalled, sparred

Council tables RV ordinance, has heated discussion with mayor


A recreational vehicle ordinance stalled.

Discussion about the proposed rules led to a heated exchange between council members and the mayor.

Portland City Council held off on the second reading of a proposed recreational vehicle ordinance after hearing conflicting opinions from members of the public in attendance and verbally sparring with Mayor Jeff Westlake.

Council heard various public comments, including from Portland Board of Works member Steve McIntosh who asked for clarification about the proposed ordinance saying he was confused by the details as presented in The Commercial Review following the March 18 meeting.

Council president Kent McClung read proposed ordinance, which passed unanimously on first reading and details the following:

•Recreational vehicles, defined as RVs, motor vehicle carriers, motor homes, campers, boats, boat trailers, recreational equipment trails and trailers, may not be parked in a front yard unless they are in a garage, carport or driveway

•When parked in a street or alley, recreational vehicles may not impede or obstruct traffic or the line of sight for a regular vehicle.

•Recreational vehicles may not be parked “on residential premises” for more than 24 hours during loading and unloading

•Recreational vehicles may not be used for living, sleeping or housekeeping when parked or stored at any location not approved for that use. (The city’s board of works may approve temporary use in extreme circumstances, such as a fire or natural disaster.)

Violations of the ordinance call for a fine of between $100 and $1,000. 

The conversation started with Westlake saying residents were angry that the ordinance that was passed was different from the original changes he had proposed. He said residents should be part of the decision-making process. He asked for clarification from city attorney Wes Schemenaur regarding the city’s legislative process, saying it seems he doesn’t have much recourse if council members choose to amend ordinances he proposes.

“They are the legislative body of the city,” Schemenaur said of city council.

Portland resident Trisha Myers argued that she should be able to use her property as she pleases. (Council members confirmed with Myers that her recreational vehicle would not be in violation of the new ordinance based on where it is currently parked.)

Karin Somers, another Portland resident, said she feels recreational vehicles should not be allowed to be parked on the streets or alleys where they could be left for years without being moved. She suggested the council should slow down the process and reconsider the ordinance.

Her comment led to several council members pointing out that the topic has been discussed for months — it was brought up in late 2023 and revisited beginning in January with a new mayor and several new council members in office — and that having a first and second reading of the ordinance allows time for public comment.

At that point, the meeting turned contentious as council member Ashley Hilfiker said she felt the mayor was throwing council members “out to the wolves” regarding the proposed ordinance. She noted that the mayor has been part of the process throughout.

“I told my constituents that I was going to serve them,” responded Westlake, pointing out that his original proposal was changed. “We need to keep in mind that the people we are serving are the ones who put us here. … And we need to keep in mind that the people need to feel included in the decisions that we make for their future.”

He noted the importance of keeping campaign promises.

“And if the community always sees the mayor just trying to make the change alone, then they’re going to see the true colors of the council,” he added.

Goldsworthy responded by saying everyone involved is working hard.

“I find that very insulting,” he added in response to Westlake’s comments, with Hilfiker chiming in her agreement.

Westlake then expressed frustration about council not making his requested changes to the city’s trash collection ordinance.

Goldsworthy pointed out, based on the recreational vehicle discussion, that residents have differing opinions and that elected officials are never going to make everyone happy.

Westlake said he didn’t realize people were going to fight him on his campaign promises.

“Those are your promises,” council president Kent McClung retorted.

“You go out and you talk to people and come back with your own ideas about what’s right for the citizens,” he added. “But you have to remember that each of us up here has their own ideas as well. And just because we don’t vote everything you want doesn’t mean that we don’t represent the people.”

Westlake accused council members of looking at things “through their own lenses” and not getting the public’s perspective on issues.

Council members took issue with that statement, saying they do talk to members of the public and care about the community. Hilfiker noted that she attended the last council meeting a week after giving birth.

“So don’t tell me that I do not care or I’m not a leader,” she said. “It’s not fair.

“And just because we don’t vote with something that you want, we’re not all going to have the same opinion.”

Westlake said he feels there’s a need to work together, with Hilfiker responding that the mayor needs to start working with the council.

Westlake added that he doesn’t understand why he and council members are not seeing eye-to-eye on some issues. Hilfiker responded that when council members share their reasons, he gets upset.

“You act like as soon as you propose it that we have to pass it, and we don’t,” said Hilfiker. “That’s the whole point of having city council.”

When the conversation turned back to the recreational vehicle ordinance, Schemenaur took issue with the characterization that the ordinance was being rushed. He said the ordinance has had the most intense discussion of almost any in his time as city attorney.

Myers and Somers again expressed their opposing opinions on the issue.

There was also a brief discussion about impact on the Tri-State Antique Engine and Tractor Show in August, with Schemenaur suggesting leniency during the event.

Goldsworthy ultimately made a motion to table the second reading of the ordinance, with fellow council members Michele Brewster, Mike Aker, Dave Golden, Ron May, Hilfiker and McClung agreeing unanimously.

Also Monday, council approved spending $45,669.95 to equip three new police vehicles to be purchased for Portland Police Department. (Council approved the funding for the vehicles at its previous meeting, with the city’s board of works approving the purchase last week.)

Council members, Portland Police Chief Dustin Mock and other officers had a back-and-forth over whether the department was going to trade in existing police vehicles. There was also a push-pull conversation about where the funding would come from for the equipment, with some council members suggesting existing police equipment funds while Mock and officers advocated for using money that was brought in via fines for off truck route violations during the 2023 construction season.

Ultimately, Golden proposed a split option, utilizing all of the $30,000 from the police department’s local option income tax (LOIT) equipment fund — the department also has almost $16,000 available in a general equipment fund — with the remainder to come from the city’s general fund. (Money from off truck route fines went to the general fund.) His motion was approved unanimously.

The purchase of the vehicles and equipment led to a discussion about take-home police cars. Council members offered various views on the issue, with Golden ultimately suggesting a work session be scheduled to hash out details. Clerk-treasurer Lori Phillips said she will reach out to council members, police, firefighters and others who have take-home vehicles to schedule the work session.

In other business, council:

•Approved a pair of tax abatements for FCC (Indiana) after they were recommended for approval by the city’s tax abatement advisory committee. FCC is planning new investments of $1.6 million in personal property and $499,000 in real property. The investments are projected to create 10-plus new jobs.

•OK’d on second and final reading the conversion of the intersections of Ship and Main streets and the intersection of Middle and North streets to four-way stops. Both are currently two-way stops with through traffic on Main and Middle streets, respectively. (The vote was 6-1 with May in opposition.)

•Heard an update from street department superintendent Matt Shauver regarding the city’s recent spring clean-up week. He noted that city employees collected 84 tons of trash on their routes during the week after picking up 44 tons the previous week. Council said it is in support of having a fall clean-up day as well and informally agreed to update the city’s trash pick-up ordinance to call for two clean-up days per year.

•Discussion of the trash pick-up ordinance led to several notes from McClung, who pointed out that the city ordinance still calls for council meetings to be held at 7 p.m. on the first and third Monday of each month although they have been being held at 5:30 p.m. for years. He also pointed out that any ordinance changes to be discussed must be provided to the public and media in advance or read in full at the meeting prior to a vote. (Council informally agreed to change the ordinance regarding the meeting time, and Phillips said proposed ordinances can be posted on the city’s website to allow the public to review them prior to meetings.) McClung also suggested a new procedure for considering ordinance changes, with one meeting set aside for discussion before a potential vote at the following meeting.

•Heard a comment from resident Virginia Burkey regarding bags of trash that were left at a residence. Westlake said he talked to the individuals in question and that the issue is being addressed.

•Was reminded by Goldsworthy that a series of Jay County Development Corporation events in partnership with Jay County Junior-Senior High School, including a signing day for students who are being offered jobs at local businesses. It follows a career fair on April 3 and an interview day on April 26.

•Heard a question from Hilfiker about the flashing stop signs that were moved from the intersection of Franklin Street and Industrial Park Drive to another intersection in the city. Shauver said he would look into getting quotes to purchase another set of the signs.

•Was invited, along with the media to FIRE OPS 101 training that Portland Fire Department will host on Saturday, June 15.

•Following a question from Hilfiker, heard from Mock that he plans to hire a code enforcement officer for the city.

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