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CARLTON FLETCHER: Albany city commissioner tries to take bite out of pit bull ordinance

OPINION: Procedure will delay implementation of specific-breed dangerous dog ordinance

Carlton Fletcher

Carlton Fletcher

You can’t please everyone …

Rick Nelson

Two schools of thought will emerge from Ward IV Albany City Commissioner Roger Marietta’s procedural maneuvering that temporarily delayed final vote on a city of Albany pit bull ordinance Monday at a special called business meeting of the commission.

There will be those who applaud Marietta for taking into consideration the concerns of pit bull owners, who under the proposed ordinance would be required to register their dogs, maintain at least $100,000 in liability insurance and keep their animals confined in pens with very detailed specifications, among other restrictions.

There will be others, though, who wonder why Marietta, who called for the ordinance in the first place after highly publicized pit bull attacks on small children, so vehemently opposed the ordinance offered by City Attorney Nathan Davis, forcing a delay in implementation of the law through a seldom-used procedure.

When Marietta’s request to table a vote on the matter so that the board could come up with “less harsh” provisions failed, the Ward IV commissioner essentially forced a delay by “withdrawing unanimous consent and insisting on a second reading” of the ordinance. City law requires that ordinances be given two public readings and votes before becoming law, but the commission usually “asks for unanimous consent to dispense with the seond reading” to bypass that provision.

Count Marietta’s colleagues on the commission among those who fall into the second school of thought.

Three of them — Ward V’s Tommie Postell, Ward I’s Jon Howard and Ward III’s Christopher Pike — openly questioned Marietta about his apparent flip-flop on the ordinance, their comments at times becoming heated. During a pre-briefing held to go over the meeting’s agenda, Postell confronted Marietta: “You made the pitch for this ordinance originally, isn’t that correct?” When Marietta confirmed that he had, Postell continued, “Did you not consider these concerns then?

“Now you decide you want to come in and destroy (at this point, Marietta interjected, ‘Modify’) … then modify an ordinance that you wanted created?”

Postell later described pit bulls as “vicious animals who sometimes turn on their owners.”

Howard, who has the longest tenure on the commission, said in the pre-briefing, “Commissioner Marietta, this is your ordinance (Marietta again interrupted, saying, ‘This is our ordinance.’) Are you now not satisfied with it? Did you not think about the consequences of the ordinance when you called for it?”

Pike, who was serving in his final meeting with the board after being voted out of office in the 2013 municipal elections, said Marietta’s change left him confused.

“It seems that you’re kind of at a point where you don’t want to do anything, that you’re worried about these ‘unintended consequences,’” Pike said. “It sounds like you want to do away with the ordinance that you insisted the city create. How can there not be consequences or costs for dog owners, even if you lessen the restrictions? There are still going to be costs, and dog owners are still going to be mad.”

Marietta said he would support the measure if insurance and confinement requirements were “less harsh.” He’d drawn laughter during the commission’s Jan. 7 work session when he’d asked if dogs that “had no history of trouble” might be “grandfathered in” and not be held to the requirements of the new ordinance.

Unless there are some serious changes of heart in the next couple of weeks, the commission will pass the pit bull ordinance, either at its Jan. 28 or Feb. 25 meeting. (Davis said Tuesday morning he expects the second vote to be taken in February since Marietta asked to address it “next month.” “The second reading does not have to come at consecutive meetings; it can come at any time, January, February, March or whatever,” Davis said. “Section 18 of the City Charter says only that the vote must be taken ‘at separate meetings on separate days.’”)

Owners whose dogs have been well-behaved will pay the price for the sadly growing criminal element that breeds the animals for fighting and for casual dog owners who treat their pit bulls like any other breed.

The question that should be paramount in officials’ minds is the greater good of the community, not the hardships certain restrictions might place on a small special-interest group. That’s a tall order for anyone who feels that he or she should try and create what is universally considered an impossibility: legislation that pleases everyone.

Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at carlton.fletcher@albanyherald.com.