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Friday April 18th 2014

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More on the great chicken debate

T.S. Strickland, a recent graduate of the University of West Florida, has been working on various assignments for us this summer. I asked him to cover yesterday’s Committee of the Whole. After sitting through hours of council discussion, he got to hear the “Great Chicken Debate.” I had hoped that he would have covered the discussion of the city auditor selection, too, but five hours was a little much to ask of the young man.

Here is his take on the city chicken discussion:

Amid discussion of 100-year floods, public utility workers’ bargaining rights, road improvements, and city coffers, the one issue that seemed to arouse citizens’ sense of civic purpose at Monday’s City Council Committee of the Whole meeting was poultry. Chickens, to be specific.

The Committee voted to draft a proposed ordinance revising City laws related to the keeping of chickens.

The move seemed to be a victory for Responsible Chicken Owners of Pensacola – or ReCOOP. The group has been working in recent weeks with District 2 Councilwoman Sherri Myers and Code Enforcement Administrator Steve Wineki to revise the laws. Last night, Wineki presented a draft of their recommendations.

The proposed changes would:

● Make it unlawful to kill any animal, including chickens, within the city limits – unless for public health or medical reasons.
● Prohibit the keeping of roosters, which are noisy and unnecessary for producing eggs.
● Limit the number of hens-per-residence to eight. There is currently no limit.
● Allow chickens to range freely in their yards.
● Eliminate a provision that allowed the indiscriminate extermination of pigeons and doves, which Myers called “draconian.”

Council President Sam Hall said he preferred to leave the ordinances unchanged.

However, Myers disagreed. “The ordinance we have now is not something we should have in an urban setting, where people can have an unlimited number of chickens – including roosters,” she said, “so we’ve got to change the ordinance.”

“What the people who support urban chicken farming have proposed is extremely reasonable,” she added.

The proposal received a mostly positive reception. Though, council members voiced some concerns.

Hall questioned the provision to outlaw the slaughter of chickens.

“I just have a question for you,” he interjected. “What about when they stop laying?”

“When they stop laying? …” Myers echoed, clearly confused.

“Yeah. Couldn’t you bake them then?”

Hall’s question was met with laughter, though not from Myers. “I don’t think we should have slaughtering of animals within the City,” she said. “That would fall under our animal cruelty laws.”

Several members of ReCOOP waited more than three hours to speak in support of the recommendation and answer questions. Paul Darling, one of the group’s founders, made headlines recently when he was charged with violating City ordinances by keeping seven chickens at his East Hill home. He was given 60 days to get into compliance – twice the normal grace period because of City Counci’s deliberations.

During Monday’s meeting, Darling requested a moratorium on enforcement of existing laws until a decision was reached. His request was not granted, due to concerns about what the impact of such a move would have. (As City Attorney James Messer put it, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”)

However, Wineki agreed to not pursue Darling’s case until the issue had been resolved. Darling urged the Committee to be patient and gather more input before making any decision on the issue.

“I don’t think we need to rush through any of this,” he said. “The existing code has been in place for 100 years, and there’s never been an issue. I think we can give it a few more days. Whatever it takes to get it right.”

“I know there are more important issues,” fellow ReCOOP founder Tom Garner told the Committee, “but this is important to us.”