The Richmond Register


May 28, 2014

Safety called main issue in Big World debate

RICHMOND — Anthony “Big World” Mitchell is free to continue cruising Richmond streets to promote his advertising business – as long as he complies with the law, according to city officials.  

The question of whether Big World should be allowed to drive his lawn mower on city sidewalks and along streets was a hotly contested issue Tuesday night at a meeting of the Richmond City Commission.

Mitchell, 41, is a well-known and beloved figure in the city, having operated his advertising business for the last 22 years. He is paid by local businesses and political candidates to display signs on his vehicle, which until recently was a riding mower.  

In March, an officer from the Richmond Police Department told Mitchell he could no longer drive his mower on sidewalks or streets, since his vehicle is not in compliance with state and federal regulations.

Mitchell also does not have an operator’s license. In addition, city officials noted Mitchell’s mower does not have lights, turn signals or other required safety features.

Approximately 10 to 15 local residents were on hand at Tuesday’s meeting voicing objection to what they believe is unfair enforcement targeting Mitchell.

During the public comment segment of the meeting, several residents implored officials to apply “common sense in enforcement,” suggesting Mitchell and his riding mower do not present a significant threat to either pedestrians or traffic.

At one point, Commissioner Laura King questioned whether the city was engaging in selective enforcement. Eastern Kentucky University groundskeepers and others regularly drive their riding mowers short distances on city streets. If the city is going to enforce the ban against mowers on streets, King said, it would have to enforce it across the board.  

Mayor Jim Barnes disagreed, saying there is a significant difference between riding a mower a short distance between houses and driving it all over town on city streets. Barnes also said the city is obligated to comply with state and federal laws.

“This is about his (Big World’s) safety,” Barnes said. “What if we as a city government do nothing about it, and he gets hit by a truck? Who are they going to blame? I’m sure I’m losing a lot of votes because of this, and I’m sorry. But I’m going to stand firm on this. My job is to protect the citizens.”

As the discussion wrapped up, Commissioner Robert Blythe lamented the fact that discussion about Big World seemed to turn hostile before commission members had a chance to study and address it. He recommended a meeting in which interested parties could meet to explore options available to both the city and Mitchell.

“It should never have gotten to the point of hostility, because this commission is not the enemy of the citizens of Richmond,” Blythe said.

Blythe also asked people to consider both sides of the issue before making a judgment.  

 “We hear lots of cries, ‘Why can’t he ride this?’ But we have not talked about people who have been in accidents, or have almost been in accidents, trying to avoid hitting Anthony. So when we talk about public safety, we have to talk about his safety and the safety of everybody else who’s driving and trying not to kill him,” Blythe said.

At one point in the discussion, David Dilligaff, said he was submitting a petition with more than 1,700 signatures in support of Big World, and another 400 due by email.

Commissioner Donna Baird told Dilligaff that approximately one third of the petitions she has seen so far were from people who aren’t city residents.

No date or plan was announced to discuss the issue further.

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