BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – It was an emotional hour of pros and cons that led the Fort Madison City Council to finalize approval for golf carts, ATVs, and UTVs on city streets… it was also in the bag.
At Tuesday’s regular meeting, the council voted as it has the past two times on the ordinance to allow the vehicles on most city streets, by a 4-3 margin.
An amendment added by councilman Bob Morawitz to allow only vehicles that are certified by the manufacturers safe for city streets was voted down by the same 4-3 margin.
Morawitz, Mark Lair, and Chad Cangas all voted against allowing the vehicles on city streets, while Councilmen Chris Greenwald, Kevin Rink, Matt Mohrfeld, and Rusty Andrews voted to approve the usage.
The city will have to publish the new ordinance and then the law will go into effect.
But depending on how the election shakes out, it could be a short-lived ordinance. City Council candidate Jerry Hamelton, who opposes Rink in the upcoming election, spoke out Tuesday against the motion, saying the majority of people don’t want the ordinance passed.
A Pen City Current poll of Facebook followers had close to 1,200 responses with 64% of them indicating they opposed the move.
Mayoral candidate Joe Helmick, who opposes Matt Mohrfeld, also spoke in opposition to the new ordinance.
The most emotional plea came from Julie Vorhies who told the council that the safety of the community is paramount.
“Safety is not negotiable,” she told the council. “It’s more important because it’s fun, or cool, or for the sale of golf carts.”
She directed her comments at Chris Greenwald who said, into the record, he wasn’t going to be selling golf carts.
Mayor Brad Randolph cut the discussion short and told Vorhies it was improper for her to bring unfounded accusations to the council and directed her away from the comments.
Jim Posz brought up how the specifications of golf carts make them unsafe.
“Who says that golf carts don’t belong on streets? One answer – the companies that make them,” Posz said.
Posz said he made a copy of the owners’ manual of EZ GO Golf carts and recited the manual that said the vehicles were designed and manufactured for off-road use.
“They DO NOT, and that’s all caps, DO NOT conform to federal motor vehicle safety standards of the United States of America and are not equipped for operation on public streets.”
He also said brakes on golf carts are mechanical brakes on the back two wheels and don’t stop as well as other vehicles.
“Go back here up 8th Street between C and D, how well can you stop if you only have brakes on two wheels. It’s hard enough when you have brakes on all four. Try Sunnyside, that’ll be an adventure,” he said.
Vorhies also presented a petition to Mayor Brad Randolph with 668 signatures. Randolph asked if Vorhies knew the percentages of city voters and county voters who signed the petition, which Vorhies did not.
“That would be an important thing to bring to the council, because these councilman only represent those people in their wards, not those in the county.”
After Morawitz offered his amendment, about 10 people spoke to the council in opposition to the ordinance. No one spoke on behalf of the measure.
Morawitz said he didn’t have a preference either way as far as having the vehicles on the streets, but said he couldn’t vote to allow them when the manufacturers and the majority of residents didn’t want them on the streets.
“The manufacturers say they don’t belong on the streets, but we say we’re gonna do it anyway. And we’re gonna say we don’t care what the people think,” he said throwing his arms into the air.
Mohrfeld, who has spearheaded the effort to get the new law on the books, said city streets are recreational roads and that should be included in the conversation.
The vehicles must be registered with the county and the state and must be operated by motorists 18 years of age and older. Business 61, 18th Street, and 15th Streets are not permitted streets for usage unless crossing perpendicular.
A full copy of the ordinance will be released by the city this week to news outlets.