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Fort Smith Board approves animal fine amendment

story by Aric Mitchell
amitchell@thecitywire.com

The Fort Smith Board of Directors pushed through a late amendment to the recommendations of the Animal Services Advisory Board (ASAB) on Thursday (Dec. 27), but not without controversy.

The decision came at the board's last meeting of 2012, held at the Creekmore Community Center, and was narrowly affirmed by a third and final 4-3 vote.

The vote consisted of Directors George Catsavis, Philip Merry, Steve Tyler, and Pam Weber in the affirmative, and Directors Andre Good, Don Hutchings, and Kevin Settle dissenting.

However, certain parts of the ordinance, specifically an amendment authored by Director Merry and presented at the Dec. 18 meeting, may be in jeopardy once new board members take office on Jan. 1, 2013.

The City Wire spoke separately with Directors-Elect Keith Lau and Mike Lorenz during the third and final reading. The two men will take over for Tyler and Hutchings, respectively, and both shared Good and Settle's outlook that Merry's amendment was not in the best interests of the city.

Lorenz said that while revisiting the amendment was "not a priority," he would support doing so.

"I don't particularly care for the amendment," Lorenz said. "I don't think it serves the purpose of what the rest of the ordinance is trying to fix. I would like to see the committee's response to this ordinance getting passed the way it is. That was my problem, that we've added something that wasn't part of the final recommendation. Just to repeal it as is, I don't know if I'm behind doing that, but I would like to see the committee's final report of what they would like to have done."

Lorenz continued: "If it ends up being in a discussion, then yes, I would be in agreement to revisit and repeal. I don't think it (the Merry amendment) was the intention of what the committee (ASAB) spent 15 months working on, and I don't think it serves the purpose of the ordinance."

Lau agreed.

"I'm for letting committees do their jobs and bring their recommendations," Lau said.

Lau continued: "I'm so ready to get over this issue that I don't want to spend any more time, but I don't think it's a good ordinance with the amendment because it puts some burdens on the citizens. ... It's the law of unintended consequences that I don't like. The original ordinance was pretty well thought through, and we shouldn't be amending it at the eleventh hour. That's what I consider micromanagement."

Concerning a timetable for when the issue could be revisited, Lau pointed out that "a couple of things in this ordinance were left undone – the extra costs for housing cats an additional two days and the cost for the animal control officer to enforce the regulations."

"Those are budgetary issues that we don't have the money to spend for, so what are we going to do about those? If we need to come back and revisit that (Merry amendment) at the time we're looking at those two things, then we probably will."

Merry's amendment calls for a $100 fine plus court costs for a first offense with the fine waived if the pet owner opts for spay-and-neuter. The second offense would result in a $200 fine plus court costs. Should the pet owner choose spay-and-neuter at that time, the fine would be reduced to $50 plus court costs.

On the third offense, the fine climbs to $300 plus court costs, or $100 plus court costs with the spay-and-neuter option. Finally, on a fourth offense, the fine reaches $400 plus court costs, or $200 and court costs with the spay-and-neuter option.

"If at any time the pet owner decides on spay-and-neuter within 30 days of the offense date, then the fine portion is fully waived. Payment of fines (and court costs as approved by the judge) can be replaced by working at a local animal shelter in hopes that education on the spay and neuter need to curb area animal overpopulation will occur," the Merry amendment states.

LAU ON RECALL
Also Thursday night, Lau spoke about the recent statement from Fort Smith citizen Cheryl Gilmore threatening a recall of Lau’s election to the Ward 1 seat in August.

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Gilmore said in an e-mail that Lau was "overhead speaking with other directors that come January 2013 when he takes office, he will get rid of this problem and issue."

Gilmore is the former chair of the ASAB. She resigned July 18 after fallout from a lengthy and sarcastic e-mail she sent to Fort Smith Director Kevin Settle. Settle and Gilmore were part of a frank discussion during a July 9 study session. Gilmore’s e-mail was followed by a letter from ASAB vice-chair Nichole Morgan in which she was "deeply sorry" for the "uncalled for behavior" and "an excessively immature and petty reaction" from Gilmore.

Lau said he was "not worried about the recall," adding that he believed Gilmore represented "a very small group of people, who are against me taking the stand of less micromanagement and more fiscal responsibility, and that was pretty much proven in how many people showed up for the primary."

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Comments

Committees in this town do tend to be the equivalent of..

..having the fox redesign the hen house and this was certainly no exception. We really need to get away from the old time-tested status quo of a regular in the crowd yelling 'jump' and then City Directors start bouncing around. It's wasting too much time! Next I guess it's billboards without any checking whatsoever as to do we have at least a hundred people in the entire city worrying about them?

Tyranny of the Majority

It was a small minority which incited the establishment of this here USA. Minority ideas have always been slow to catch on, at least for the slow among us.

Enforce the law - especially on those who passed it.

We need a team to watch certain directors homes that let their dog(s) out several times a day without a leash to 'do their duty' - and report them each time with photographic proof of the violation. Post on the community board if someone sets it up and I will take shifts.

Blue Barrels Commitee

Monitor the Blue Trash Bins and cars parked on the lawn and unpainted trim and grass height, etc, etc. Now there is a commitee to volunteer for for those who have nothing to do except improve our city.

dogs

I got my dog from the pound to help out. However, in the event it gets out of my fenced back yard after Jan, the pound can have it back and keep it. I can't afford the fine or the time off work to deal with something so minor as my dog getting picked up on the first "offense". I'm sure the strays are an issue for the city. But if the directors would put as much attention to the people and jobs instead of animals, Fort Smith may not be in such bad shape. Oh, I forgot, you can kill a baby(legal abortion), but God forbid you even consider killing an animal.... Priorities people !!

First offense is okay

Just like the first offense of true-up screw up. No consequences. Then again, was the true-up the first offense or one in a string of offensive mismanagement. Serious problems require strict solutions. First time for a loose dog can be a serious problem for the first time victims. Dont' even get me started on repeat offenders dogs or humans!

One More Comment

My neighbor just called for an animal warden to come out to our neighborhood, as there are a pack of six dogs roaming the neighborhood. We were surprised to find that there are no animal wardens on duty, as they are off for the New Year's holiday. Perhaps the City of FS should at least have an animal warden "on call" for the holidays so they can enforce this ordinance when grandma or the baby lets the dog out. Are they off on weekends too?

"Perhaps the City of FS should" be more progressive

Mr. Lau,Settle,Good,et al, should try the new ordinance before they condemn it. Until it has been tried and failed, we cannot predict unintended consequences. Those very consequences might indeed be beneficial. It is not like other cities have necessarily failed in such efforts. Let's learn from their successes. Think Positive and Go Forward.

seek and ye shall find

If you read the first task force recommendations. I did. They asked for more animal control officers to increase responsiveness to call in reports and increase educational programs. The directors failed to act to their proactive recommendations. Apparently, it did not fit their personal agendas.

Task Force and Director Merry

Director Merry's fine schedule makes enforcement self-funding by collecting the cost of enforcement from the violators specifically rather than taxpayers generally. Also, the violators have the opportunity to get educated in lieu of fined. Your statement,"The directors failed to act to their proactive recommendations." is misleading, if not disingenuous.

fine me once, shame on you

your comment is actually the disingenuous one as animal control conducts a myriad of tasks and responsibilities outside of roaming. Besides, 90% of violations are first offenses, and according to Merry, there is no fine on neutered animals and refunds for after the fact neutering. so where is the self funding you speak? your idea of education is a "teach with the rod" approach for violators to "do as I say or you will be punished." my idea of education is to understand responsibilities and why it is wrong to shirk them. truly, for all this time spent, the populace is no better informed on how best to care for their animals.

Sunday school 101

"do as I say or you will be punished."--Transalation, there are consequences to infringing upon other people's rights. Irresponsibility equals consequences is also a "biblical" concept. The rod is for guidance by the way, not battering.

Fine, court, missed work and more

Hitting a low-income family with unexpected $400+ worth of expenses because someone didn't close a front door fast enough or someone else didn't completely close a back gate is battery.

NEW LAW AMENDMENT!!!

I am a proud animal lover who has been spaying/neutering my animals for years. I would first like to point out that the people who are following the law are the only ones who will have to pay this fine. The only way you know who the animal belongs to is because I tagged them so I could be reached in case of such a mishap. So now that I have said that let me explain that I do agree with having animal right and vaccinations, but I don't agree with this system of laws at all.