Half a dozen sheep were seen running at large in Woodward Thursday in the forenoon, taken by some as a sign and wonder in advance of the evening’s work session, hosted by the Woodward City Council, on the question of amending the city’s golf-cart ordinance.
“Only in Woodward!” said resident Ruth Altman of the lawless sheep. “Did they by chance bring any chickens with them?” she joked, alluding to the urban-chicken controversy that roiled local opinion in recent months.
The question of amending the golf-cart ordinance came before the council at its Aug. 12 meeting, but Woodward resident and former council member Craig DeHoet gave the matter an early airing with an Aug. 1 post on the community’s Facebook page.
“There is no need for this ordinance!” DeHoet said. “We already have laws governing golf carts. If there’s a problem with people breaking the rules, enforce the rules you already have instead of penalizing the people following the rules.”
DeHoet’s Facebook statement drew numerous comments in reply.
The operation of golf carts on the streets of Woodward is currently governed by chapter 77 of the Woodward Code of Ordinances, which closely follows section 321.247 of the Iowa Code. The most notable feature of the proposed amendment of the Woodward golf cart ordinance is the introduction of a registration requirement for all carts.
The council opened its formal deliberations on the proposed amendment at its Aug. 12 meeting and held the Aug. 29 work session to further hash out the question.
“This all came about,” Woodward City Council member Dave Luke said at the Aug. 12 council meeting, “not because people enjoy riding their golf carts around — I enjoy seeing some of you guys drive around — but what happened is we’ve got a bunch of young kids driving these golf carts around our community, and they’re out of control.”
Luke related a frightful incident from July that could easily have turned Woodward’s celebration of Independence Day from a scene of patriotic fervor to a night of golf-cart terror.
“On the Fourth of July,” Luke said, “we had an incident with kids riding around town on a golf cart and shooting off fireworks. We’re lucky that a kid didn’t lose his life that night or numerous kids because they ran into a clothes line, cut the top of the golf cart off, the top, and could have took their heads off. So this whole thing started because we don’t want you not to drive your golf cart in town, but what we have to do is make rules and regulations that people are going to have to follow.”
Woodward City Council member Mary Bustad said the issue also arose in the course of the city’s program of updating or recodifying its ordinances.
“Our codification company sent Christina (Perkins, Woodward city clerk,) an ordinance or parts of an ordinance,” Bustad said, “and they said, ‘This is what you need to do to cover your own liability in the city of Woodward.’ That’s kind of how it all started. I brought this to the council two or three months ago, and it just kind of died.”
She said interest in revising the ordinance was renewed after complaints were lodged about risky golf-cart behavior, including the Fourth of July near miss.
“Well, then all these problems shot up,” Bustad said. “The night we didn’t have any lights, there were people on a golf cart, driving around crazy, holding a tiny baby on their lap when no street lights were on. It was pitch black. I was absolutely horrified.”
Bustad said she supports revising the ordinance if it will mean greater safety for the city’s residents.
“Every Sunday I see a kid who can’t be 8 years old, driving a golf cart around my neighborhood,” she said. “People don’t know the regulations, nor do they know the laws. They don’t know anything. They think, ‘Oh, we can just drive a golf cart all over Woodward.’ Half of them don’t have slow moving signs. Half of them don’t have flags. People are putting six or seven kids on them.”
Bustad lapsed into exasperated silence, and Woodward City Council member Kelly Kirts took up the argument.
“I live on Cherry Street,” Kirts said, “and I see a lot of people take them to the swimming pool, and I don’t see many adults on those golf carts going back and forth. Okay? I see too many people riding on them. I see too many people standing, and they don’t stop at the stop signs. I had one individual on a golf cart that almost got hit by a truck because they didn’t yield at the yield sign. I stood there and watched it. I told Mary, I said, ‘Maybe it’s time.’ We didn’t bring this up and say we want to punish everybody that’s got a golf cart. Dave’s got a golf cart. The mayor’s got a golf cart. So that’s how this all came about.”
The question of the amount and frequency of the proposed registration fee was discussed at both August meetings. An annual fee of $10 was one proposal, and a triennial registration schedule was also suggested. A discussion about requiring proof of liability insurance at the time of registration also brought out differing opinions.
An Aug. 27 letter from Woodward City Attorney DuWayne J. Dalen to Woodward Mayor Todd Folkerts, shared at Thursday night’s work session, reviewed the current federal and state laws governing golf carts on local streets and concluded that Woodward’s current ordinance “follows the exact requirements as set forth in the Iowa Code.” The city attorney also addressed the question of requiring insurance on registered golf carts.
“The state of Iowa and Woodward City Ordinance does not currently contain an insurance requirement for the owners of golf carts,” Dalen said in his letter. “There is no federal requirement for a golf cart to have insurance. State laws differ on this issue.”
Second only to their wish to promote the health and safety of Woodward’s residents, the city’s leaders understandably desire to limit the city’s exposure to legal liability claims in the event of a personal injury or property damage involving a golf cart on public property. Dalen also addressed the liability issue in his letter:
“The question of whether or not it increases the liability of the city if we do not require insurance is debatable,” he said, “and I could not find legal evidence that it would create additional liability. If someone on a golf cart was injured on the city streets, they would have to be able to show some negligence on the part of the city for there to be liability imposed upon the city. For example, the injured party would have to show that a pothole or a missing stop sign or some other issue within the city’s control caused the accident. The city will be included in a lawsuit for these types of issues whether or not the city required golf cart insurance. Based upon my research, l do not find that it would increase the city’s liability if the city does not require proof of liability insurance.”
Woodward residents expressed a wide variety of golf-cart opinions at the council meetings and on Facebook. Some residents agreed that safety was a concern.
Brian Crnkovich said the juvenile offenders were “probably the young kids I see flying down Locust. They appear to have no regard for following the law.”
Stacy Jo Tolle agreed. “I’ve almost hit those kids several times,” she said “They pull out in front of people and don’t stop at stop signs!”
According to Shelly A. Brault, drinking and driving on golf carts is also commonly seen, “and drinking beer is illegal and should get you an DWI,” she said on Facebook. “See this go drive my house all the time.”
Other residents said they felt the golf-cart issue was exaggerated or overblown.
“The people I see riding their golf carts are careful and obey the traffic laws and signs,” said Greg Alan Chiri, replying to DeHoet’s Facebook statement, “which is more than I can (say) about some of the drivers that race through town and roll through stop signs. Probably a few people bitch about it, so now it’s an issue?”
DeHoet repeated his claim at the Aug. 12 meeting that stricter enforcement of the current ordinance was preferable to new registration fees and proof-of-insurance requirements.
“Rather than add more requirements and restrictions, let’s be more involved and have (Woodward Police Chief Joe Cox) speak to the parents and have them address it,” DeHoet said.
Some residents said they found the whole question pointless and without merit.
“This is a total waste of taxpayer dollars!” Lanita Cavanaugh said on Facebook. “Totally unnecessary. Waste of council time. They should focus on way more important things!” Cavanaugh did not specify any particularly more important things the council should consider.
“Passing laws feels like we are doing something to solve or prevent a problem,” said Facebook philosopher John D. Ruhland, “but in reality it is just adding a ticket on top of a tragedy if such a thing happens. Life is inherently dangerous and always ends in death. We can’t legislate that fact away.”
Life is finite, and the city’s current golf-cart ordinance will remain in force until it is amended. The provisions of the ordinance were helpfully summarized by Woodward Police Department Chief Joe Cox in an Aug. 19 post on the Woodward Police Department Facebook page.
“Please be advised,” Cox said, “we have been receiving many complaints on golf cart usage in town. Here are just a few things to remember when operating a golf cart.”
Golf carts may be operated on city streets by persons possessing a valid driver’s license. A golf cart shall not be operated upon a city street which is a primary road extension (Main Street) but shall be allowed to cross over a city street which is a primary road extension through the city. The golf cart shall be equipped with adequate brakes, a slow moving vehicle sign and a bicycle safety flag. The golf cart shall be operated only on the streets from sunrise to sunset.
Riding on Golf carts: A person operating a golf cart shall not ride other than on a permanent regular seat attached thereto. No golf cart shall be used to carry more persons at one time than the number for which it is designed and equipped.
The city council will revisit the proposed amendment at its next regular meeting, Monday, Sept. 9 at 7 p.m. at the Woodward City Hall at 105 E. Second St. in downtown Woodward.