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Parkersburg City Council passes ordinances on treatment facilities, group homes

Resolution putting pledge on agenda fails in tie

Members of Parkersburg City Council and the administration discussed an ordinance regulating group homes during Tuesday’s council meeting in this screen capture from the city’s YouTube stream of the meeting. (Screen Capture)

PARKERSBURG — Parkersburg City Council on Tuesday approved the final reading of a pair of ordinances regulating where residential substance abuse treatment facilities and group homes can locate.

But Lori Waller, with Disability Rights of West Virginia, warned city officials the rules on group homes for those with disabilities could face a challenge in court.

“You want to litigate this? We’re happy to litigate this,” she said during the public forum at Tuesday’s council meeting. “You can’t discriminate on the basis of a disability. A disability is just a part of life.”

The ordinance prohibits a group home occupied by developmentally or behaviorally disabled individuals from being within 1,500 feet of another such facility, limits residents (excluding staff) to 12 or one per 200 square feet of living space and requires that they be registered and receive zoning confirmation before receiving a certificate of occupancy. Other measures prohibit exterior alterations to the residential nature of the facility and require it to meet the standards of the National Association for Recovery Residences, if applicable.

Mayor Tom Joyce said the intent of the legislation was to look out for property owners in the neighborhoods where the facilities locate while also ensuring they meet certain standards for the residents of the facilities themselves.

Councilwoman Wendy Tuck asked City Attorney Blaine Myers about concerns raised by groups like Disability Rights, a federally mandated, nonprofit advocacy group.

“They have a legitimate point of view, and I think you should consider what they have to say,” Myers said. “They are not the final arbiters of the law.”

Myers said the city’s legislation was drafted after researching ordinances on the books in different parts of the country. While he said he would never guarantee something would withstand any possible legal challenge, he said some of those ordinances remain on the books after facing legal scrutiny.

“Many communities across the country have adopted ordinances on the same subject matter and they’re still in force and effect,” Myers said.

The city recognizes its obligations in protecting the rights of people with disabilities, Myers said. The ordinance includes a process by which it can be appealed if it’s believed a provision is inadvertently resulting in discrimination, he said.

“Certainly there are circumstances where maybe we can’t anticipate every factual circumstance that will arise,” Myers said.

The ordinance passed 7-1, with Tuck opposed and Councilwoman Jesse Cottrille absent. So did the ordinance regulating the location of residential treatment facilities.

An ordinance formally adding the Pledge of Allegiance to the council agenda failed in a 4-4 tie.

For several years, the pledge and the Lord’s Prayer had been said prior to meetings being called to order, after the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation challenged the recitation of the prayer at meetings. The group later filed suit on behalf of two Parkersburg residents, and a federal judge recently ruled the prayer practice could not continue because it was a uniquely Christian invocation led by council members.

Councilwoman Sharon Kuhl said she co-sponsored the ordinance so the pledge would be a formal part of council meetings.

“Until someone sues us over that, we can still say it,” she said.

Councilman Mike Reynolds said the prayer and pledge had been a tradition but he felt council should not make the pledge part of the meeting.

“I feel like we’re here to do the work of the City of Parkersburg,” he said. “There’s really no place for it in our meeting, I don’t feel.”

Kuhl said saying the pledge reminds her of the people who fought and died for America’s freedoms and that the country was founded as “one nation under God.”

Council President Zach Stanley said he felt the resolution was “more for show.” Members take an oath to support the Constitution when they are sworn in, he said.

“I don’t have to say the Pledge of Allegiance to know that I’m going to work hard for every person that’s in this room, to try to do what’s right for the city,” he said.

Stanley, Reynolds and Councilmen J.R. Carpenter and Austin Richards voted against the resolution, while Kuhl, Tuck and Councilmen Bob Mercer and Chris Rexroad voted for it.

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