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December 4, 2012

BEAM: Things that make you go hmmm ...

There are times I just have to scratch my head.

No, it’s not because I have fleas, although with all the animals around the house that wouldn’t be too far-fetched.

What’s got me thinking is some of the actions our local governments take. I know running a city or town is a hard, thankless job. I get it. People seem to criticize more than they praise. There’s plenty of good happening in our communities through government and charity involvement, and I appreciate that.

But then there’s also the downright questionable things governing entities do. Two such instances have popped up recently that have got to make you wonder how followers of local government have any hair at all. One concerns a fine levied by the town of Clarksville against State Rep. Ed Clere. The other involves the recent sweep of several homeless settlements by the Jeffersonville Street Department.

When I first read the charges against Clere and the subsequent penalty, I cackled. No really. My husband came downstairs and questioned my sanity. To charge in excess of $200,000 for a sign violation should make anyone laugh. However, if that’s the law against signage, then so be it.

Then I read the code in question.

Now I’m not an attorney, thank heavens. I just act like one sometimes when I mediate my kids’ disputes. Yet correct me if I’m wrong, but the ordinance in question reads that “political advertising signs may be 16 square feet and placed in the right-of-way of town public ways for a period not to exceed 30 days prior to an election and must be removed 48 hours after the election.”

I don’t tolerate ifs, ands or buts from my children, but the “and” in this code does need some careful consideration. An argument could be made that the conjunction in the above sentence suggests that the size requirement of signs only applies to public right-of-ways. Depending on how you read the sentence, or the party to which you are affiliated, you could interpret the statute in a few different ways.

Some consider vagueness a virtue in certain matters, for instance column writers and presidential candidates. Not so much for laws, especially ones that carry $200,000 fines.

Common sense should dictate that Clere’s case be dropped and the town council rewrite the code to clarify their exact intentions. Continue to keep the subsequent fines high. I always need a good laugh and my mom, who lives in Clarksville, could benefit from some street repaving.

And no, she doesn’t have any illegal signs on her property, although she might show you a certain rather large hand gesture if you examine her yard long enough.

Onward to the next perplexing situation: last Wednesday’s sweep of the homeless camps by the Jeffersonville street department. The street department doesn’t have an easy job. A fine line exists for them in many regards, particularly in their dealings with our homeless population.

Yes, a sanitary environment should be maintained for the health of all involved. And that cleanup can’t be a fun task. I don’t envy it.

A problem arises when the street department throws away more than just trash. Sleeping bags, blankets and mementos were taken, some of which were irreplaceable. Charities, like Exit 0, replenished what they could, but an uneasy trust the homeless population shared with the city had been broken. Remember that fine line I spoke of earlier? In this instance, it was crossed and public outrage ensued.

No one should think the street department workers are heartless brutes. They did the job they get paid to do. This go around, it was just handled the wrong way. Certain guidelines must be enacted to ensure a repeat of this does not occur.

For one, the city needs to use the resources of local charities. Let them know when a sweep will occur so they can plan accordingly and help store or relocate essential belongings. These organizations would serve as a great asset to bridge the gap in understanding between the city and those who live on the streets and help promote a greater dialogue.

Likewise, Jeffersonville needs to make finding a long-term solution to the homeless situation a priority. And no, relocating the camps to another town should not be an option. Local groups have presented some interesting proposals to the city that would aid local charities in helping those in need. I’m confident the city will consider these ideas and approve their implementation accordingly.

For those who would like to aid the homeless population firsthand, check out Exit 0’s website at jesuscaresatexit0.org. My boys and I have volunteered the past few Thursdays down at the overpass. Northside Church of Christ, in conjunction with Exit O, serves dinner at that time to those in need of a good meal.

City officials, if they haven’t already, should pay a visit sometime. Laughs are as warm as the chili served and appreciative smiles and thanks are really the special of the day. You get to know the people as human beings; not as a demographic population.

In seeing my propensity to never dress warm, one of the longtime homeless men even offered me his gloves so I wouldn’t shiver. When someone attempts to give you what little they have, you learn a valuable lesson.

Humanity and goodness exist in the most unexpected places. If you can find them in the dark recesses of an interstate overpass, I’m confident they have been found in local government as well.

In the end, we’re all on the same side. Your scalp shouldn’t go raw trying to figure that one out.

— Amanda Beam is a Floyd County resident and Jeffersonville native. Contact her by email at hoosiermandyblog@gmail.com

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