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City Council, January 13

Leash law adopted. Dog runs to be provided in some parks
City gets highest bond rating but can it take all the credit?
Marc Knapp

At last night's meeting, Council member White amusingly noted that he had no calls from constituents over the $140 million budget of the City, but innumerable calls over the proposed changes to the animal ordinances. Citizens obviously know where their hearts are! Council members White and Alexander have led the efforts for changes in the ordinances and have provoked controversy. Most of their proposals were approved by Council last night though with some modest amendments.

Perhaps the most controversial ordinance was that prohibiting voice control to restrain animals when in public places. A leash must now be used. Many members of the public spoke against this ordinance claiming their dogs responded to voice control or needed to be allowed to run freely. And as Council member Shirley asked, where were the statistics that showed that dogs were attacking people in Charleston. Police Chief Mullen couldn’t provide any. However, some members of the public cited attacks and provided national statistics that suggested attacks or injuries from dogs were more than rare.

City to create dog runs in some parks
The City attempted to overcome the opposition to the leash law by promising to create designated areas within some City parks where dogs would be allowed to run freely in certain times – a few hours in the morning and late in the afternoon. The times would coincide with those that children were unlikely to be using parks.

City staff said that plans were already underway to create a run on Cannon Park, perhaps the most popular all the parks for dog owners. Meetings needed to be arranged with the Parks and Recreation Commission and with the neighborhood. Similar meetings would be arranged in relation to other parks such as the Hazel Parker Playground, Hampden Park and Ansonborough Field.

How to define “voice control”?
Responding to a question from Council member Shirley, Police Chief Mullen said that he had a problem with the present ordinance in that “voice control” wasn’t adequately defined. His view of the term was much stricter than that of many members of the public. However with the new ordinance, a definition is largely moot as dog walkers can only use a leash, though dogs, in designated areas of parks and in the appropriate times still must be under “strict voice control”.

Mayor Riley said that the new ordinance would not be applied until March 1 so there was time to study the term “voice control” and to designate areas and times for dog runs in some City parks

Discrimination against "mutts"
The ordinance regarding sterilization and redemption of at-large animals had been discussed at a previous Council meeting. It came back last night in an amended form. A stray dog picked up by the City will be surgically sterilized if not already so unless the owner pays a $500 fee, or the dog is a purebred and has participated in at least one nationally recognized conformation or obedience show. This seemed very much a discrimination against half breeds or “mutts” and some animal advocates took exception to it. But the ordinance passed, and with the general blessing of the SPCA

Final proposed ordinance should have been voted down
The final animal ordinance was deferred but logically it should have been voted down. It related to the number of pets that can be kept. The present ordinance refers to limits of 3 dogs and 3 cats but does not satisfactorily define whether it’s either or, or a total of 6 animals. The Livability Court was also looking for a stricter definition. Council member Lewis said the ordinance was silly. How can you define the appropriate numbers for a household in the City when the size of the lots and houses varies so greatly? He also suggested that the City’s Nuisance Laws could look after situations where people had too many animals. It seemed that most Council members agreed with him but the issue was deferred for later consideration rather than voted down.

Our final comments relates to the City’s animal licensing. As some members of the public suggested, a lot of the problems relating to sterilization and dog control could be eliminated if the animal licensing process of the City was better policed. If dogs wore tags or were “chipped”, owners could be immediately contacted. Owners could also be fined for allowing their animals to be loose. Hard to disagree!

City gets highest credit rating from S&P
Predictably, Mayor Riley was mightily pleased that Standard and Poors had given the City an AAA credit rating. Let us not forget that this is one of the rating agencies that totally botched the mortgage mess. We also would like to see if Moody’s has the same outlook.The ratings don’t come any higher and according to the Mayor, the City is the only one within the State to receive such a rating. The rating will help the City price its proposed $18.5 million bond issue. The Mayor acknowledged those factors and people that contributed to the achievement of the City’s high rating.

Some others deserve credit
To the Mayor’s list, we would like to add some names he didn’t mention - the Historic Charleston Foundation, the Preservation Society and the many members of the community who have striven to preserve the City. They have fought to keep its historic ambience and stop the undermining by new developments. As S&P acknowledged, tourism is an important part of the City’s attraction, and visitors are drawn to the City by its history. The historic charm and ambience are also factors in maintaining real estate values and a strong property tax base, important in S&P's assessment. Without the help of these preservation groups and citizens, many of the historic buildings we have would have been lost and replaced with ugly and larger structures. Traffic would have been heavier than it is presently.

The City administration likes to take credit for much of what is preserved. And it is certainly entitled to some. But we also know that if the City always got its way, the historic ambience and appeal would be much less. The City has supported a number of large and questionable (from an aesthetic view) projects. Some were stopped because of the opposition of the City’s citizens and preservation groups. But the opposition at times was not enough to restrain the City.

Ordinance to criminalize boat abandonment
Council member Mallard introduced an ordinance to make it a criminal offence to abandon a boat on public lands or waters, or on private property without permission of the land owner. The ordinance was also to provide regulations for the seizure and removal of abandoned boat.

It all seemed like a good idea until Council member White suggested some caution. The proposed ordinance is very similar to that proposed by the State. The Council member said that the City ordinance may shift the cost of boat removal to the City rather than leaving it with the State. Council agreed to a 30 day review period and to discuss the issue again.

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