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Berlin Council backs tattoo committee effort

Members of the Tattoo Ordinance Committee address the Berlin Town Council on Monday. The council voted 3-1 to write a letter of support for the committee’s efforts in seeking a text amendment from the Worcester County Commissioners, allowing the county health department to provide inspections and oversight for tattoo businesses in the town.

By Josh Davis, Associate Editor

(May 17, 2018) The Berlin Mayor and Council on Monday voted 3-1 to approve a letter of support for the Tattoo Ordinance Committee as its next step is to approach the Worcester County Commissioners.

The committee plans to ask the commissioners for an amendment in the county code allowing the Worcester County Health Department to handle inspections of Berlin tattoo businesses.

According to a staff report included in Monday’s mayor and council meeting packet, the committee was formed last fall in response to concerns that a proposed emergency ordinance was “out of date and not in the best interest of the town.”

Since then, the committee — councilmen Zack Tyndall and Dean Burrell, tattoo artists Matt Amey, the committee chairman, and Dana Helmuth, vice chairman, and resident Patricia Dufendach — met with health department officials and reviewed ordinances in Baltimore City, Alleghany County, and Wicomico County.

“The Tattoo Ordinance Committee would like to propose to the town certain regulations, but we need or would like the county health department’s oversight when it comes to inspections … in making sure that these facilities will live up to the regulations that we propose,” Amey said.

He said current county code has separate regulations for body piercing and tattooing – the county health department inspects the former, but not the latter.

“They have specific directions for the health department stipulating their duty to inspect these locations,” Amey said. “There is nothing within their tattoo establishment ordinance that mandates these inspections for tattoo establishments, so for us to move forward with our suggestion, we would like to approach the county to ask that they make this text amendment to mandate tattoo establishment regulations have those inspections.”

Amey said the text amendment would not change county or municipal regulations when it comes to tattooing, but, “it would just allow the health department to, basically, have this blanket inspection oversight throughout the county and incorporated townships.”

He added the only health department inspection mandates in current code were to oversee body piercing businesses and restaurants, and to test pools.

“They are on a complaint basis for most everything else,” Amey said.

Mayor Gee Williams had a word of advice for the committee: don’t ask for countywide changes, but rather ask for Berlin to be the exception.

“Don’t try to eat the whole elephant in one bite,” Williams said. “Sometimes it’s better to show something will work … because I’m not sure that there is the support beyond any municipality.

“The rural areas are rural for a reason,” he continued. “Many of the things we take as values here … have not yet been accepted in rural areas – that’s their right and their privilege.”

When Amey argued current body-piercing regulations covered the county and municipalities, Williams countered, “you’re thinking logically, not politically.”

“Listen to me, dammit – stop with the logic. If logic existed, Washington wouldn’t be in the mess it’s in today,” Williams said. “We can request, we can recommend, whatever the council wishes to do, but then it’s up to the county commissioners to then make their best judgment and I’m trying to give you the best advice I can.

“Like everything else, we attempt to do this now to have high standards,” he continued. “We want to have standards that create public confidence in everything we do – restaurants, public safety, our ADA access – whatever it is, we just want to do it as well as we can.

“We have to lead by example, so I think it’s very important that we lead in a way that others can follow when it’s time for them,” Williams said, adding there was “too much damn standardization” in the world today.

“We have carried forward a lot of things that we treasured from the past, but we’ve left some other things way behind that were unfortunately part of our past,” he said. “I think every community has to make those decisions … [but] every family does not have to be identical to every other family.

“Generally speaking, we’re following a course that I think is going to make us a better and better community over time, and I’m just asking that, in your approach, represent the community that is here and then others can make an informed decision based on how things work out,” Williams said.

“I agree 100 percent,” Amey said.

Tyndall moved for the council to write a letter of support for a text amendment in county code to require the health department to inspect and oversee tattoo businesses in the Town of Berlin in the same manner in which they currently operate for body piercing.

The council voted 3-1 to approve the motion, with Councilman Thom Gulyas voting “no” without comment. One councilman, Troy Purnell, was not present.

The council also voted 3-1 to extend the moratorium on Berlin tattoo businesses for 180 days, or until the committee can formally propose a set of tattoo regulations.