Citizens have to speak out

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 15, 2013

Many of our elected officials believe that silence equals endorsement.

I don’t believe that is true. Even apathy, while deplorable and frustrating, shouldn’t be considered the same as support.

But I do believe that the citizens of Ironton, and really all of Lawrence County, have to start standing up for what they believe in and letting their elected representatives — locally, at the state level and in Washington — know how they feel on important issues.

Nothing seems to embody this need more than Ironton City Council’s recent decision to allow golf carts to be driven on city streets.

The newspaper and I vocally opposed this measure because of the significant safety concerns, the minimal plan as to how the ordinance will be enforced, a lack of analysis of what this is going do to the city’s traffic patterns and the fact that no one presented any substantial evidence that this will benefit the city.

The newspaper publicly requested Mayor Rich Blankenship to veto the ordinance and I formally did so in an e-mail to the mayor. His response was basically that he has already signed it into law — to take effect in 30 days — and that city council members have the ability to change their votes and that I should have asked them to do so, rather than singling him out to veto it.

I countered that this seems like passing the buck and that I believe he has a responsibility to take a stand on an issue of this importance.

The mayor disagreed with my assessment that the majority of citizens are opposed to this but are just hesitant to speak out about anything.

“The overwhelming result that was relayed to me was that (citizens) were in favor of this ordinance,” the mayor wrote. “I am in the public every day and attend functions daily as well. Very few citizens have even mentioned the subject over the past two months let alone voiced opinions in opposition.”

I’d like to know who he is talking to because virtually everywhere I go, and within every civic organization I am a part of, this has been a hot topic. I would be hard pressed to find more than 2 percent of those I spoke with who think this is a smart idea.

I get the fact we have to try to be different and that we want to set Ironton apart from the rest of the Tri-State, but I don’t believe this is the right way.

Of course, I keep an open mind to everything. If someone can explain how this will attract people to Ironton, promote economic development or do anything else positive, then I’m all ears.

All that I see is that it would create another safety concern in a town where traffic laws are ignored because there is virtually no fear of enforcement. It will also place another burden on a police force that is already understaffed.

But, maybe I am wrong. Maybe letting golf carts zip through the city will be looked back on as one the smartest decisions ever made. I will happily eat my words.

I certainly agree with council chairman Mike Lutz, who voted in favor of it, that collectively we are spending too much time talking about this issue when there are lots of other positive things going on in the city including the development of the riverfront and the addition of a hotel and at least one restaurant.

But that still doesn’t make it the right call.

Regardless of whether citizens think this issue is important or some other one that arises in the future, residents must stand up and allow their voices to be heard. Otherwise they will have no room to critique the decisions our elected leaders make.


Michael Caldwell is publisher of The Tribune. To reach him, call (740) 532-1445 ext. 24 or by e-mail at Follow him on Twitter: @MikeCaldwell_IT.