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Golf cart ordinance revisited

by DERRICK PERKINS
Editor | April 13, 2021 7:00 AM

Libby City Council is looking into allowing golf carts on local streets in some fashion for a third time in recent memory.

The move came at the behest of the same group of residents who previously petitioned city leaders to remove restrictions on golf carts on municipal roads. The effort, which resulted in a proposed ordinance going before city council, failed in October and again in January.

Residents who favor the measure say it will help a disabled local man more easily navigate the city. While Oliver Orak struggles to use an off highway vehicle, which are legal on Montana’s roadways if properly outfitted and registered, a golf cart better suits his needs, supporters said.

They returned to City Hall on April 5, with Orak notifying city councilors that he planned to drive his specially outfitted golf cart with or without official sanction.

“We’ve gone over and over the thing, it’s been about a year,” Orak said during the public comment portion of the meeting. “I’m tired of coming before you. I made [my] mind up that I will be driving my golf cart whether or not you choose to continue on in this vein.”

Orak cited the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination based on disability, as giving him the legal basis for operating the golf cart. People with a disability have the right under the ADA to choose a vehicle that meets their needs, he argued.

Resident Ken Crandell sought to explain the practicalities behind the decision to get Orak a golf cart. He struggles with the left side of his body, Crandell said, so street legal off-highway vehicles like side-by-sides are difficult.

“So the golf cart, the height of the golf cart and the way it’s set up with flat deck and all that, it’s easy for him to get in on one side,” Crandell said. “The golf cart fits Oliver’s disability the best.”

Mayor Brent Teske responded by noting that he had asked the council’s ordinance committee to examine the measure again, this time with an eye to the ADA. Previous iterations of the ordinance would have legalized the vehicles to anyone in the city with a driver’s license and a willingness to properly outfit a golf cart.

Teske asked Orak to hold off on taking to the city’s streets until the ordinance committee finished its work.

“I will appeal to a higher power,” Orak replied.

“I can’t give you carte blanche to drive anything out on the street that isn’t legal,” Teske said.

When Orak’s supporters repeated claims that the ADA gave him permission to drive a vehicle of his choice on municipal streets, City Attorney Dean Chisholm intervened.

“The ADA is tricky. The determinations are very fact-specific,” Chisholm said. “It’s simply not true that the ADA allows this gentleman to drive whatever vehicle he wants. It is also not true he can drive the vehicle tomorrow without legal problems.”

Chisholm said that his research indicated that courts ruled that golf carts are only legal on municipal roads if the city allowed it. Still, Chisholm said he understood Orak’s frustration and urged patience.

“I don’t think you’re getting necessarily competent legal advice right now,” Chisholm said.

Previous versions of a golf cart ordinance would have required drivers to register the vehicles with the state and procure liability insurance. They would have remained banned on U.S. Highway 2 and state Highway 37, but allowed to cross the thoroughfares at designated intersections. Golf carts would have been barred as well from sidewalks and multiuse paths.

City council’s ordinance committee was expected to take another look at the proposal at noon, April 12, after The Western News’ print deadline.