Meridian Star

November 1, 2013

Council to get help on dog ordinance

The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN — Terri Ferguson Smith

    A new dog law is getting a second glance by the Meridian City Council.

    The council unanimously passed an ordinance in October that limits the number of dogs per household to three. That caused an outcry from some in the community who used social media to send a message of disapproval to the council.

    The council is considering rescinding or changing the ordinance. On Thursday council members heard from a long-time resident of Meridian about the need for uniform animal control ordinances.

    Ann Stewart, who described herself as a fifth-generation Meridian resident, told council members in a work session that she and others would like to have a chance at drafting an ordinance that would  consider the needs of pet-owners and pets along with the concerns of neighbors.

    "Would the council allow a team of us, veterinarians, breeders, people who have been rescuing dogs for some time; would you give us an opportunity to put an ordinance together for the city of Meridian?" Stewart asked.

    Stewart asked if the council would be receptive to the team drafting rules that draw from successful ordinances from other cities.

    She said this is not something that will happen in the next month or two because there will be a lot of research involved. Council members Kim Houston, Ward 4, and Dustin Markham, Ward 2, told Stewart they liked the idea.

    Stewart said the issue goes far beyond the number of pets.

    "We want to address the problems that we have with neutering and spaying, animals running loose, noise ordinances — the things that are bothering people — all of the things we know we are seeing every day," Stewart said. "We have to look at this from a lot of different perspectives. We will have a lot of voices talking about it and seeing what sense it makes for the community."

    Stewart said no one wants to micromanage people and their pets, but there are ways to safeguard the community and make sure pets are well taken care of.

    "We want to make sure we safeguard the pets that you have, and make sure they are safe and happy, Stewart said. "We want to make sure that citizens are respectful and responsible."

    Council members talked about two other recent ordinances at the Thursday work session. Mayor Percy Bland vetoed two newly amended ordinances last week; one about "citizens comments" and the new rules for "temporary employees."

    During the work session Markham, an attorney; asked City Attorney Michael Goggans about the reasons he advised the mayor to veto the citizens comments' ordinance.

    The council voted to take citizens comments off the agenda in May because some people were said to be abusing the privilege by bringing concerns not relevant to city business.

    The council drafted new rules in October which spelled out how a person can get on the agenda and other guidelines to follow.      

    Markham drafted the new ordinance for the council. Goggans took issue with its wording.

    "There's nothing that tells us we have to have citizens comments," Markham said. "There's nothing that tells us we can't put reasonable restrictions on it."

    Goggans said he agreed that there is no requirement that the city allow citizens the opportunity to comment and address the council.

    "It is my interpretation of the law that once you do allow citizens comments, then you have to go through constitutional analysis," Goggans said.

     The troublesome part of the ordinance, according to Goggans, is that people who request to be placed on the agenda must first disclose the topic of their remarks before they are approved. Their request can be rejected if it is not considered to be city business.

    The ordinance states: "If it is deemed that the topic a citizen wants to discuss does not pertain to the business of the city of Meridian, then the citizen will not be placed on the agenda and will not be given the opportunity to address the city council."

    Goggans said that is unconstitutional.

    With Bland's veto of that ordinance and the one the council passed regarding temporary employees, council members could vote on the vetoes at its meeting on Tuesday. To override a veto, at least four council members must vote in favor of overriding the mayor's veto.

    The council will meet Tuesday at 9 a.m. at City Hall.