Commission approves animal code revision, chickens remain prohibited

City Commissioners voted Tuesday night to approve changes to the animal code, without amending the proposal to legalize backyard chickens again.

Commissioners said they’d received calls, emails and letters, of which the city clerk’s office has record of 22 letters/emails sent regarding chickens, two of which were in opposition.

At the end of the meeting, Mayor Bob Kelly directed staff to look into what’s required to put urban chickens on the November ballot.

“It’s time to put the chicken conversation to bed,” Kelly said. “I’m tired of hearing about it.”

Kelly added that he believes there are more important issues and challenges facing the city.

But for the time being, chickens remain illegal in the city limits and the city is litigating a complaint filed in district court by a couple cited for harboring illegal chickens.

The couple, Cheryl Reichert and Charles Bocock, have been cited multiple times by the city for illegal chickens in the years since the ordinance changed. Last year, facing legal action from the city, the couple filed a complaint against the city alleging the chicken ordinance was illegal. The city requested summary judgement in the case last fall but is still waiting on a determination.

During the June 6 first reading of the proposal, some members of the beekeeping community said they’d like to participate in discussion since changes were being made to bee related provisions. City staff met with beekeepers later that week to address their concerns and take their suggestions.

Several beekeepers spoke in support of the code revision during the June 20 public hearing.

Supporters of urban chickens asked for that option and Joe Cik, deputy city attorney asked the mayor how he wanted to handle it. Mayor Bob Kelly told Cik that he didn’t want to address chickens in this action since bees were already allowed and chickens weren’t part of the code revision discussion at this time.

Both Reichert and Bocock spoke in support of updating the code to allow chickens while the other revisions were being considered.

The couple’s neighbor, who complained to the city about their illegal chickens, came to the meeting and approached the podium with the aid of her walker.

“I’m against having chickens,” she said.

Kathy Gessaman and a few others said they objected to chickens being included in the definition of livestock.

Members of the Electric City Pittie Committee applauded most of the changes, but had a few suggestions related to dangerous animals the provisions that classify dogs trained to fight as dangerous animals. Commissioners suggested that Cik work with their members to potentially incorporate their suggestions on that topic in a later ordinance.

Commissioner Bill Bronson said that what was seen and heard during Tuesday’s meeting was a microcosm of the “chicken wars” of 2011 when the city considered changing the ordinance to allow chickens.

Trying to make everyone happy in this case is “too darn difficult,” Bronson said.

He said that some areas of town still use neighborhood covenants and if those prohibit chickens, changing the ordinance won’t matter in those areas.

Commissioner Bob Jones said he had as many calls in opposition as in favor and didn’t support pursuing the issue at this time.

Commissioner Fred Burow said he too remembered the chicken wars.

“It was a very heated thing,” he said, and that he voted against legalizing urban chickens then because people who came to him in opposition outnumbered those in support.

Bronson and Burow said they would support staff exploring the options, but weren’t sure they’d vote to approve putting it on the ballot.