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Opinion: Don't trust City Council on tree ordinance; vote 'yes'

Recently, The Daily Republic printed an opinion piece from Mel Olson. He was trying to urge the people of Mitchell to vote "no" on the ordinance that would protect city-owned land around the lake. I wasn't going to respond to the article. I was hoping common sense would prevail.

However, during the Oct. 18 City Council meeting the ordinance was discussed. I didn't hear anything that made any sense. I feel the whole discussion was used to grab headlines and scare the voter into voting "no" on the ordinance.

Mel's article implied that the mayor and he are the experts at interpreting the wording of the ordinance. The following is a direct quote from the article: "The mayor and I have discussed the wording and agree that our mutual legislative experience -- and other citizens' lack of it -- are a factor in the fundamental misunderstanding. ..." I'm sorry to burst Mel's bubble, but before I returned to Mitchell, I was an IRS agent. My job was to study and interpret the federal tax code. I do have experience interpreting the law. But what really matters is that the knowledge and experience of the lawyer who wrote the ordinance trumps Lou, Mel and me. It is a well-written ordinance.

The ordinance dedicated three pieces of city-owned land for public use as parks. The first piece of land is on the non-lakeside of the road. I repeat, the non-lakeside of the road.

The second piece of land is also on the non-lakeside of the road. The third piece is all city owned property comprising or abutting the shoreline of Lake Mitchell.

The mayor and Mel have a problem with the word "abutting." They interpret "abutting" to mean "continuous." In other words, any cityowned land that touches Lake Mitchell and any city-owned land that touches that land is included in the ordinance. With this definition, the road is not a barrier. The National Guard land, the airport, the cemetery and the water treatment plant would be included in the ordinance.

I looked up "abutting" in three different dictionaries. The word "continuous" was not found in any of the definitions. I had a friend ask a lawyer if "abutting" means "continuous." He said "No."

Another indication that the word "abutting" does not mean "continuous" is in the structure of the ordinance. There are three numbered sections in the ordinance. Section 1 gives the legal definition of the first piece of land. It is on the non-lakeside of the road. Section 2 gives the legal definition of the second piece of land. It also is on the nonlakeside of the road. Section 3 states "All city owned property comprising or abutting the shoreline of Lake Mitchell."

Sections 1 and 2 had to be written into the ordinance because they do not fit the definitions set forth in Section 3. If "abutting" meant "continuous," there would be no need for Sections 1 and 2 because they would already be included in Section 3.

The structure of the ordinance means that the road is a barrier. All land on the nonlakeside of the road is not included in the ordinance unless it is specifically written into the ordinance. If someone wanted to include the airport in the ordinance they would have to write a Section 4 that gave a legal description of the land around the airport.

I'm sorry, but I don't trust the City Council on this issue. If this ordinance doesn't pass, the council can sell any and all city-owned land around the lake.

Please vote "yes" on this ordinance.

Terry Timmins is a former member of the Mitchell City Council.

In Other Words features opinions from local and other contributors who have areas of special interest or expertise. Material shouldn't exceed 600 words and can be sent, along with a photo, to Editor, The Daily Republic, 120 S. Lawler, Mitchell, S.D., 57301; or The Daily Republic cannot guarantee all submitted material will be used.