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March 20, 2014 7:19 am

EDITORIAL: City must choose to enforce laws or clean them up

Written by Tom Lawrence

When is breaking the law OK? In Powell, it depends.

Can you speed, run stop signs or drive drunk? No, and if a police officer catches you, you will pay a price for flaunting the law.

Can you park for more than two hours downtown, despite an ordinance against that? Are illegal turns allowed, or at least not strongly prohibited? According to what was said at Monday night’s Powell City Council meeting, yes.

A new law that goes into effect today allows residents to have up to four chickens — either newborns or hens, no roosters — per lot. However, businesses that offer chicks for sale have dozens, and people who hatch eggs in their homes  and raise chickens for farms may have more — perhaps many more — than four at a time.

Is that OK? According to Mayor Don Hillman, the council and city staff, yes, it is.

City Attorney Sandra Kitchen said it’s up to the Police Department if they choose to enforce it.

“It’s a matter of enforcement,” City Administrator Zane Logan said.

Police Chief Roy Eckerdt said he has no intention of ignoring the law.

“We’ll enforce it as written,” he said.

There are simple ways to correct these matters without ignoring laws or putting the police in an awkward position of citing businesses for doing what they have been doing for years.

In the case of parking, the city should do more to let people know there is a two-hour limit on parking in the downtown area. Signs will both inform people of the law and encourage them, with the help of a notice stating the amount of the fine, that such illegal parking is not allowed.

It’s not just a matter of being picky about a minor law or collecting fines for city coffers. Downtown businesses are being harmed when vehicles clog available parking slots for hours, according to Powell Valley Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jaime Schmeiser. A new business owner in town brought the matter to the attention of the council Monday night.

Logan and Eckerdt said they plan to sit down and explore options. We think that’s a good idea. Among the possible solutions are extending the time for legal parking to three or four hours, to ensure people who are at a movie or are downtown to shop or recreate have enough time to complete their trip. Another good step would be promoting all the free parking available in city lots, just a few steps from the shops.

People want to park close to where they are going, especially in bad weather, but if they are made aware of the parking options, especially if they plan to be downtown for a few hours, they may use the lots.

Another option would be to have an officer or Police Department employee marking tires and writing tickets to enforce the ordinance. That doesn’t seem very popular with the Police Department, and we’re sure people who get tickets wouldn’t be thrilled, either.

Eckerdt said Tuesday he’s not sure if the law actually is valid without signs notifying people of the two-hour limit.

The chief also asked what should be done about people who live in second-story apartments downtown and park on the streets. How about customers of restaurants, bars and the movie theater? Should they be given a pass?

“It makes it very difficult to enforce,” he said. “We have to hold everyone to that same standard or not at all.”

If Powell is not going to enforce the parking law, perhaps the solution is to encourage people to use parking lots and other options while removing an ordinance that is not being used.

Similarly, the chicken ordinance can be mended with a few sentences.

The ordinance that was passed, with three readings, did not exempt businesses, nor did it allow people who raise chicks to do so for a few days before taking them to a farm or another facility outside the city. At a council meeting earlier this month, a resident told the council he did just that and asked if he would be in violation of the new law.

Well, yes, he was told, but the city would look the other way. “Happy Easter!” Hillman said.

If the city wishes to allow businesses to sell baby chicks, a practice that has gone on in Powell for years despite a previous ban on the fowls in the city, it can be allowed with a few words added to the law.

“They need a change in the ordinance as far as that goes,” Eckerdt said.

We quite agree. Let’s either remove or clean up these ordinances and then enforce them as written.

4 comments

  • Comment Link March 20, 2014 8:34 am posted by clipstein

    you park in front of your business and that includes your employees--I will not go in. if you think I am the only one who feels this way--think again.
    WHY SHOULD WE WALK TO SPEND OUR MONEY?
    this does not help the image of powell. if all the people went to work for walmart where would they park and walk.

  • Comment Link March 21, 2014 8:38 am posted by Salty Dawg

    So get one of those big city go buggies and put a meter maid in in with a tire chalk stick.Enforce the parking rules and make business owners and their employees park off street.No more of this good ol boy BS looking the other way.

  • Comment Link March 21, 2014 9:49 am posted by Concerned Businessman

    I fully agree with the comment by clipstein. I work downtown and have for a number of years. I see the same cars outside my windows everyday and know they are not shopping. I was not aware of the ordinance. Now that I am, I make use of the convenient parking lots available nearby. I have watched customers drive in circles looking for a close spot before they give up and go home. Or worse, go spend their money in Cody or Billings. If the police want to adopt an attitude of looking the other way while laws and ordinances are broken, something is really wrong with this place. I have seen officers sitting around in their cars (maybe it is a speed trap) or wandering around ON FOOT downtown with nothing better to do. You cannot tell me there is a manpower shortage when I observe this behavior. Try again, Chief Eckerdt. We want, no NEED, our businesses to succeed if we want to have a thriving community and live up to our new Main Street USA billing.

  • Comment Link March 23, 2014 5:13 pm posted by clipstein

    See where the good old boys are plugging the poll. With that attitude bent st. does not deserve anyones business. where is the chamber. where is common sense. where is the popcorn and watch bent st. self destruct.

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