Hens In Lakewood Hits Another Roadblock

Council President, Mary Louise Madigan, called the November 21, 2011 Council meeting to order at 7:35 P.M. to a fairly full audience. She then gave the floor to Police Chief Malley to discuss the first order of business. The Chief announced that the Lakewood City Schools were awarded a grant of $511,832 from the U.S Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women, Supporting Teens Through Education and Protection Program. The grant was applied for in conjunction with the City of Lakewood, Lakewood Police Department, Cleveland Rape Crisis Center and the Domestic Violence and Child Advocacy Center. The funding is to help create a response task force that will address sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking, by developing a comprehensive prevention and education program for the community, parents, students and staff. He continued saying that under-reported sexual assaults by teens is a nationally-recognized problem and prevention and education are keys to fighting it.

Chief Malley then asked Council to pass a resolution supporting the efforts of the Lakewood City Schools and the combined task force. However, before Council voted, representatives of the different agencies who were present talked about the program. Principal Bill Wagner of Lakewood High School gave a short presentation giving Council more information on the program. To start, he said that our District was one of just nine awarded the grant and the only one in the state of Ohio. He said that the main key to this program is educating everyone on prevention methods, warning signs, and what to do if abuse is happening. He also said that the schools need to take a look at their policies and assess them. The program will create a student task force, a parent task force and there will be an onsite resource person in the schools. The grant supports three years of developing a working program that can then hopefully be transmitted to other communities around the country to help them fight the same issues.

Council passed the resolution and congratulated the Lakewood City Schools and the other agencies.

Councilwoman Madigan (At-Large) then introduced a resolution by all members of Council calling on everyone to shop locally during the holiday season. The motion passed unanimously.

Next Councilman Brian Powers (At-Large) asked Council to consider an amendment to the wording of the ordinance prohibiting certain animals in Lakewood. As the ordinance currently stands, the Director of Public Safety can give exemptions to anyone on a temporary or permanent basis with any legitimate “scientific, educational, or commercial or other” purpose. It is the word “other” in this ordinance that concerns Councilman Powers. He said that with the way the law is written, the Mayor or the Director of Public Safety can pretty much decide to exempt any animal for any reason, including allowing baboons or crocodiles. Although he says those are farfetched examples, the current law as written allows that.

He clarified that he has nothing against Mayor Summers and that there is no political infighting regarding this issue. He does not believe the Mayor would abuse the current law as written, but he says that we don’t know what future mayors may do. Also he said he is a big supporter of the separation of powers, and that he believes the current law allows the Mayor to usurp the powers of Council.

Powers noticed this issue recently when a group looking to allow egg-laying hens to be kept in Lakewood (Hens In Lakewood) approached the Mayor and asked if he would approve a pilot program under this part of the ordinance. After looking at all of the facts the Mayor supported the idea. Although he has not signed the executive order, allowing the pilot program yet, he has not ruled it out. However, if the amendment of the ordinance is passed, it could threaten the Mayor’s ability to legally sign the order allowing the pilot program. Although this is the case, Powers made it very clear in the opening of his statement that he is not against hens in Lakewood, or the pilot program, but that he is just trying to close up a loophole that he does not think should exist. He said if there is a desire for a pilot program for egg-laying hens in Lakewood, the group advocating the pilot program should propose an ordinance to Council allowing for that. That way they can take it under advisement, ask all of the questions, adjust the ordinance if necessary and decide if they think they should allow it, like other similar programs.

Councilman Tom Bullock (Ward II) opposed Powers' proposed amendments. He said that although he believes Powers is well-intentioned and he appreciates him looking out for Council’s rights, that he thinks the amendments make unnecessary changes and create a rift between Council and the administration. He also said he opposed it because of its potential to prevent the pilot program of the egg-laying hens. He believes that passing this law at a time that would prevent the pilot program would send a terrible message to citizens. It makes it seem to the residents that regardless of the hard work, time, effort and research a group puts into something, they wont even be considered or will be undercut by preventative legislation.

Bullock continued saying that proper procedure was followed as several hearings were held with the Animal Safety and Welfare Advisory Board and after they approved the program they proposed it to the Mayor. He said that the Mayor did his due diligence, the same as Council does, doing his own research while getting all of his questions answered. Bullock also said that the law allowing this has been on the books since at least 1985. He also pointed out that Council passed amendments to the same section of this law in July of this year and that no one on Council seemed to have an issue with it then.

Bullock pointed out that the last-minute addition of the ordinance and emergency language is a bit suspicious for not being pointed at the pilot program. He even stated that he would gladly co-sponsor a similar ordinance if it was introduced the correct way, on time and deliberated over three meetings.

Giving a brief history on the ordinance, Bullock said that domestic fowl, such as chickens, were not included under this law until 2004, the reason being that chickens fell under our sanitary codes which were governed by the same group of laws that the Lakewood Health Department was in charge of enforcing. When Lakewood came under the County Health Department those codes were changed or deleted. This caused certain animals which were not dangerous but might be a bit out of the ordinary to fall under the laws which govern dangerous and exotic animals, thereby banning them.

Powers clarified that his proposing the amendment in last minute, did not indicate that he had an intention of trying to pass it the same night. He expected the ordinance to go through three readings like every other ordinance. Furthermore, he said if the group would like to then submit an ordinance to Council for allowing a pilot program he would be glad to consider it.

After Councilmen Powers and Bullock finished with their lengthy statements, Mayor Mike Summers wanted to weigh in. He said he agreed with both points regarding the role of Council but said that he wanted to explain why he proposed the action he did. First, he said that although he has yet to execute the order, he still stands behind it. He said he would like for the City to decide on this without conjecture, but with real facts, and that although Hens in Lakewood collected all the information they could before allowing the pilot program, they don’t know how it will actually work in practice. Therefore, having a pilot program allows them to collect the information they need to make that decision. He cited the leashed dog program as an example of this previously working (as both Powers and Bullock did earlier to make their points).

He said he was on Council when the leashed dogs pilot program came up and that he voted against it, in fear of irresponsible dog owners and enforcement issues. However, after the year of the pilot, he realized his fears were unfounded. Because of that experience, Summers said he approached this situation with that in mind. Also he looked at all the other cities, some like Lakewood, which have similar policies and have successful egg-laying hen projects. He also stated his support for the local food movement, especially that has emerged in Lakewood in recent years.

In the closing of his statement Mayor Summers said that he respects Council's rights of oversight and responsibility to develop and oversee laws and that he would stand by and abide by any decision they make in the matter. He wanted to make sure that everyone understood that there was no “diabolical attempt to mislead, under-communicate or misdirect” Council. Saying that there perhaps should have been improved communication between the two, he promised to improve that in the future.

Council referred the proposed ordinance to the Committee of the Whole, the committee that consists of all the members of Council, for further consideration.

Council then read several ordinances to do with the City’s finances as the budget season starts to gear up. They referred all of them to the Finance Committee to be considered as part of the full budget process.

When all of the agenda items were completed, several people from the community were signed up to speak during the public comment section. All of the speakers spoke about the egg-laying hens pilot, all but one very favorably. They shared their reasons for why they thought the pilot should be allowed and research to support why it would work. Some showed disappointment, saying that they were upset that it seemed that the  Council was trying to take away their chance at a pilot program. One community member said he agreed with the efforts of Councilman Powers and felt like he had been blindsided by this pilot program, stating he heard nothing about it until it was almost approved.

After a long meeting with lots of discussion, Council President Madigan adjourned the meeting at 9:30 P.M.

Council meetings are held every first and third Monday of the month at 7:30 P.M. in the City Hall Auditorium. The next regularly scheduled council meeting will be held on December 5, 2011. For a copy of the agenda or for any other information regarding the Lakewood City Council, you can find it at onelakewood.com/citygovern_council.html.

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Volume 7, Issue 24, Posted 12:28 AM, 12.01.2011