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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Animal Control

One of the first issues the present town board addressed in 2008 was the question of animal control. Many residents want a leash law. Many others were attracted to Oriental precisely because we don't have one. The board was in complete agreement that we don't want vicious or threatening dogs at large. There was great disagreement on issues of exact rules and enforcement. Those who wanted a leash law were not happy with the modification we made in 2008. Earlier this year, Commissioner Kellam proposed a draft ordinance that I thought was a big improvement over the existing one, but still raised questions. I voted against referring the issue to a committee of citizens, but agreed to go over the proposed language with Commissioner Kellam. The following is a letter I sent to a resident on the subject.

September 20, 2009

Dear Resident:

I want to let you know where I stand on the animal control ordinance.

Local newspapers, including the Pamlico News, were in error when they reported I voted against the draft animal control ordinance.

The only vote taken was whether to refer the draft to a committee of citizens, equally divided between proponents and opponents of a leash law. I oppose that procedure just as I opposed the stakeholder's committee three years ago and as I opposed a noise ordinance committee. That would be a cop-out. The town commissioners were elected to take on such tough issues.

I also think that creating an ad-hoc committee on the fly (that is, in the course of a meeting without advance thought) is prone to all manner of misunderstandings as to terms of reference, the task, the expected time frame, etc.

As for Kathy Kellam's draft, I think it is a considerable improvement in many respects over our present ordinance. Still, there are significant issues raised by the draft, many of which she pointed out during the meeting. I have questions about some of the policy issues that I would like to resolve. In the end, whether I support the draft or some modification of it, will depend on answers to several practical questions.

I think there is support for more effective animal control measures. Whether this requires clarification of our existing ordinance, better enforcement of its provisions, more public involvement in timely reporting and complaints, or a combination of the above, I don't know. whether the provisions in Kathy's draft are enforceable concerning keeping cats under restraint, whether "voice command" is a viable concept even with dogs, are reasonable questions in my mind.

I don't agree with the County Compass headline that the draft is "dead on arrival." I certainly didn't vote against any specific changes, just against referring it to a committee. Especially after the fuss over a noise ordinance committee, I want to make it clear I don't support such an approach.

What I do support is for the Town Board to conduct public hearings or even formal investigations into proposed ordinances. While looking through NC General Statutes recently on another issue, I came across the provision empowering town boards to conduct investigations,even to the point of issuing subpoenas to witnesses. I think this is an excellent way to receive input from the public and from experts.

Another suggestion I have heard is to hold an "advisory referendum" during the forthcoming election. That suggestion came from a lifetime northerner. I don't like referenda, because the ones I have seen invariably oversimplify the issue. A question, for example: "Do you favor a leash law for Oriental" or even "do you favor enhanced animal control measures for Oriental" wouldn't tell us much. Details matter.

I have had a number of discussions with the town manager concerning our existing ordinance. When we passed it, none of the commissioners wanted to allow dangerous, vicious or threatening dogs to remain at large. Such animals are clearly covered by state law, and the county animal control officer has jurisdiction to respond to complaints. Our ordinance also addresses nuisance animals. I think we need to clarify the nuisance category. More importantly, we have few town resources for animal control. If we wish to rely on the county for support in that area, we need to conclude an interlocal agreement or memorandum of understanding spelling out the details of procedure. I have had a preliminary discussion with the County Manager about this, and he seems receptive to the idea, though a bit concerned about whether the county has sufficient resources.

I have agreed to sit down with Kathy Kellam to address specific issues and concerns and how best to address them.

David Cox

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