Democracy on display: The Polk Township “junk” ordinance discussion

Man, was I impressed with the way the  “junk” ordinance discussion went down Tuesday night at the Polk Township supervisors meeting.

See, the township had been considering passing an ordinance that would punish people who left junk – old cars, furniture, non-used trampolines, old machinery, construction materials, etc. – on their property for an extended period of time.

Well, it turns out that even though residents in Polk Township don’t like looking at the eyesores that cluttered and dirty properties in the township represent, they really, really  don’t want the township telling them what they can and can’t have on their property.

How do I know?

Well, about 20 people addressed the board on the issue on Tuesday night and 19 of them spoke out against the proposed ordinance and the fine that came with it.

But the reason why the meeting impressed me so much had to do with attendees’ behavior. About 220 members of the public came to this meeting, which was held at the Polk Township firehouse. Folks were allowed to use a microphone to address the board. And not one person spoke out of turn. Nor did one person ever raise his voice in a belligerent way.

All the people who addressed the board had solid,  cogent arguments on why the ordinance shouldn’t be passed. Appeals from residents dealt with the fact that people need the spare parts on the old cars or farm equipment on their property,  the difficulty of defining the word “junk” and the broadness of the proposed ordinance’s language.

One Polk Township resident, Paul Brennan, came up to the front of the wood-paneled hall, read from notes he had prepared and essentially gave a point-by-point argument as to why he felt the proposed ordinance was unjust.

Neal Murphy, a well-known West End farmer, who wore a plaid shirt, overalls and spoke in a light Pennsylvania Dutch accent,  addressed the board and the crowd on the issue, stating,  “There’s this little thing called pride. And if you don’t have the pride to at least take care of your own property, well, then I don’t know what to tell ya…”

What impressed me further was that one Polk Township resident who had a dissenting opinion, who thought the ordinance should be passed, was applauded by the audience after his remarks with the same enthusiasm that all the speakers against the proposed ordinance were applauded with.

And finally, what impressed me most about the discussion and the meeting on Tuesday was how the township relented.

Even though the township had invested a lot time and even money in drafting the proposed ordinance — which of course has merits. People should not use their property as a dumping ground — the township decided after hearing all the residents’ comments to not even go back to the drawing board and  redraft the ordinance. The township superiors decided to just dynamite the whole idea, to let the issue and the proposed ordinance “die.”

There was no denying it: the people had spoken.

Though it might  sound cheesy, it was the kind of meeting that made you feel proud to be an American.

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