Wewa passes two controversial ordinances

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Wewahitchka city commissioners were at the Senior Center long past dark when they unanimously passed two highly contested city ordinances last Thursday.  

In their regularly scheduled city meeting, which typically last no longer than 40 minutes, commissioners passed  Ordinance 2021–1213L and Ordinance 2021–1215L, after more than 30 minutes of public debate on their contents. 

 Commissioners have been attempting to get these ordinances into motion for months, modeling them after Gulf County ordinances passed earlier this year. However, both pieces of legislation had been tabled at previous meetings after Wewahitchka residents expressed concerns over their contents. 

 Mayor Phillip Gaskin was determined that a decision would be made that night.   "We’re not going to keep waiting... three or four more months,” he said. 

There was above-average public attendance at the meeting, and those who arrived late needed to put out additional chairs. Many of those who came sought to have their voices hear on the matters at hand. 

Wewahitchka resident Gene Hanlon, who has been opposing the Ordinance 2021–1213L at city meetings since it was first put on the table, was clear about voicing his discontent with the city’s plan to move forward. 

"I appreciate the cooperation and the changes that were made,” Hanlon said, referencing adjustments that were made to certain phrases in previous workshops and meetings. “I still think it’s going to have some long-range effects.” 

Ordinance 2021–1213L, colloquially known as the RV Ordinance, aims to limit the use of RVs as residences in Wewahitchka. County officials passed similar legislation earlier this year to curb the influx of campers after Hurricane Michael.

Hanlon felt moving on the ordinance that evening would be rash, and feared that consequences might go overlooked.

“This is a very unique city," he said. "And you don’t want to get into so much rules and copying everybody else because they’re doing it. There’s other ways of doing things.”  

Similarly, Wewahitchka resident Jim Rish felt  Ordinance 2021–1215L had to be further considered, as he said it represented an overstep of government power. 

 "My concern is about the yard police you’ve got going here,” he said. “When it comes right down to it, your private property is yours because you get to do what you want on it.” 

 “If you want to plant a garden, you want a big compost pile, that’s your business,” Rish continued. “If you want to sit out there on a lounge chair and watch the traffic go by and make lemonade, that’s your business. That’s your property. This is America.” 

 The ordinance seeks to establish parameters for code enforcement in the city and was tabled last month after commissioners and residents saw the need to revise some wording at Hanlon's request.  

 Gaskin was clear this would be the final time the commission would consider the ordinance. 

 At the city’s meeting in September, Gaskin issued an ultimatum after members of the community voiced opposition to the ordinances – read the finalized versions and bring any remaining comments to the final reading. 

"This is the second reading,” he said last Thursday night. “Not only that, but we’ve had workshop after workshop and nobody comes. So, this is the second reading and this is the last reading.” 

 Johnny Paul, commissioner for Ward III, stood in agreement with the mayor. 

 “We have fought this numerous times,” he said as he voiced his support for passing the RV ordinance. “And we’ve got to do something and start somewhere, and I feel that we need to just go with it... And if we need to back up and start over, we might have to do it.”  

In two motions, the matters were settled. Both ordinances passed unopposed with a 3-0 vote. Commissioner for Ward I, Brian Cox, was not present at the meeting due to the recent passing of his father. 

Copies of both ordinances can be found on the City of Wewahitchka's website.

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