The Albany City Commission has given preliminary approval of an ordinance restricting pit bulls in the city. The 5-2 decision must be ratified following a second reading of the ordinance to take effect. This is a photo of 5-month-old American pit bull terrier taken in 2008. (Special photo)
ALBANY — Many attendees of Monday’s special called Albany City Commission business session left more confused about the outcome of the city’s proposed pit bulldog ordinance than when they arrived at the meeting.
The commission eventually voted 5-1 with one abstention to approve the ordinance that would define pit bulls and require owners to register the animals, maintain at least $100,000 in liability insurance and keep the dogs in an enclosure a minimum of 6 feet high with a secured gate. When not confined, pit bull owners would also be required under the ordinance to muzzle their animals and keep them on a leash under the control of individuals at least 18 years of age.
The confusion arose over the attempt of Ward IV Commissioner Roger Marietta, who called for an ordinance last year after highly publicized pit bull attacks left small children mauled, to table the ordinance and lessen the restrictions on owners.
Calling the ordinance’s provisions “too harsh,” Marietta asked that the law be amended to require a fence height of 5 feet and that liability insurance be lowered to $50,000, among other changes.
“If we want the citizens to respect this ordinance, it should be constructed with common sense,” Marietta said.
Asked by Ward VI Commissioner Tommie Postell if the ordinance would stand legal scrutiny as written, City Attorney Nathan Davis said, “Our staff is comfortable with the ordinance as it is.”
When the commission voted 4-3 to deny Marietta’s request to table the issue “until we’ve had more time to talk about it,” the Ward IV commissioner called on a seldom-used bit of procedure to essentially force a delay on implementation of the ordinance. Before ordinances are passed in the city, two public readings are required. The board usually bypasses that requirement with the statement “I offer the ordinance and ask for unanimous consent to dispense with the second reading and ask for its adoption” before voting on the measure.
Marietta threw a monkey wrench into the proceedings by refusing to give his consent to dispense with the second reading.
“I can’t go along with unanimous consent,” Marietta said.
Postell, who was one of several commissioners to criticize Marietta for calling for the ordinance and then fighting to stop it, immediately interrupted. Mayor Dorothy Hubbard used her gavel to restore order.
Marietta continued, “I withdraw unanimous consent and insist on a second reading next month.”
City Manager James Taylor said after the vote that Marietta’s action means that the ordinance cannot be adopted until a second public reading and vote are held, although he wasn’t sure Monday night if that reading would be held at the city’s Jan. 28 business meeting or at its Feb. 25 meeting. Taylor said Tuesday morning he saw no reason not to bring the matter up for a second reading at the city’s Jan. 28 meeting.
Davis said Tuesday morning the second reading might come at the commission’s February meeting because Marietta asked to revisit it “next month.”
“The two votes do not have to come at consecutive meetings,” Davis said. “Section 18 of the city’s charter says only that the votes must be taken ‘at separate meetings on separate days.’ The commission could hold the second reading and vote in January, February, March or whenever.”
One thing that is certain is that the ordinance cannot become law until a second public reading is held and another vote taken. All that would be needed after the second reading is a four-vote majority, which, unless commissioners change their minds, appears imminent.
Hubbard offered her take on first voting to deny Marietta’s attempt to table the vote and later to approve the ordinance by proclaiming, “I can’t get the pictures of those children who were attacked out of my mind. That has remained etched in my memory.”
Also at Monday’s called meeting, which saw newly elected commissioners in Ward II (Bobby Coleman) and Ward III (B.J. Fletcher) join the board, the commission voted 5-2 to approve a resolution that will allow Cutliff Grove Family Resource Center Inc. to, essentially, use monthly payments over the next five years to make needed repairs at the Nativity Village apartment complex it purchased utilizing a $1.5 million city-backed loan.
Ward V Commissioner Bob Langstaff, who was also sworn in for a new four-year term Monday, asked that the vote be tabled, but his request died in the same 5-2 vote. Prior to the meeting at a pre-briefing, Postell criticized attempts to delay the vote.
“I want it known that Cutliff Grove has been making their payments; we’re not doing this because they’re behind on payments,” the Ward VI commissioner said. “Cutliff Grove is up to date with the city. We need to look at this from a positive point, not negative. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel here.”
Commissioners also OK’d one-day alcohol license venue changes for Cancer Coalition of South Georgia and Quail Albany fundraisers; approved results of the Nov. 5 municipal election and Dec. 3 runoff, and approved a $101,485 LRA Constructors bid on an Albany Transit facility that had drawn the ire of commissioners for a “less than 1 percent” minority subcontractor participation.