Will they stay or will they go? That is the decision Whitehall City Council will have to determine over the coming weeks regarding pit bulls.
Councilwoman Jackie Thompson presented two pieces of draft legislation at the March 11 council meeting concerning pit bull ownership.
Thompson’s campaign platform last year included her desire to ban pit bulls, coinciding with the same law imposed in Columbus, Reynoldsburg, Bexley, Worthington and Grandview.
She fears that, because of the bans in surrounding communities, and the fact that Whitehall is nearing 60 percent for rental units, Whitehall will become a safe haven for the breed.
Thompson said, "This is an attempt to keep our citizens safer."
The Ohio Revised Code states that "local officials therefore may enforce the ORC when a dog belongs to a breed that is commonly known as a pit bull."
In one draft, there would be a grandfather clause for dogs registered with the city prior to the law taking effect. An animal grandfathered would have to be able to be identified so the owner could not keep replacing it. Microchips and tattoos would assure that. Bexley only gives a ten-day warning to get rid of the animal.
Also included in the ordinance, would be stipulations for fencing, pens and $100,000 liability insurance protecting against injury or death by a vicious dog.
Councilman Bob Bailey questioned why the city couldn’t just enforce current vicious dog laws. He also suggested holding landlords liable if they knowingly rent to someone with a vicious dog.
He feels being specific about the breed is discrimination.
Councilman Jim Graham chided, "If you get run over by a Ford, are you going to ban all Fords in the city?"
Councilwoman Leslie LaCorte added that abolishing the animal control position a few years ago was a big mistake.
"But we found money for new positions. Jackie has done her homework backwards and forwards. I’ve never seen anyone bring something so thorough before," said LaCorte, who also suggested putting it on the ballot for voters to decide.
Most council members expressed the view that, no matter what the breed, it is the responsibity of the owner to properly train and care for their animals.
Another issue posed was who would enforce and assure violators their due process, and, who would serve as an appeals panel.
Thompson and City Attorney Mike Shannon plan further discussions with the police department to see what the impact enforcement would have on the department and officers. Currently, they are not trained to deal with vicious animals, so they try to find the rightful owner, or have the animal removed by Franklin County. Their other recourse is to shoot it.
According to Craig Turk, assistant director of Franklin County Animal Control, pit bulls account for around 1 percent of the licensed dog population in the county but accounted for 22 percent of all the dogs received at the shelter. That is an increase of 64 between 2003 and 2007.
Pit bulls also accounted for 29 percent of the dogs that were impounded for running at large or not being properly confined in 2007, and 33 percent of the dog bites reported to the Franklin County Animal Care and Control Deputy Warden.
Since pit bulls are considered to be vicious under Ohio law pursuant the shelter does not offer these dogs for adoption.
The public will be able to offer comments at the March 18 meeting.
In other business, council received a letter from Mayor John Wolfe suspending any further study on the city’s parks.
He said that the pictures and recommendations by Edsall and Associates would be a costly endeavor.
LaCorte, who is council’s parks committee chair, bristled that Wolfe and the Parks Commission made the decision without allowing any discussion with council or citizens.
Looking directly at Wolfe, LaCorte said, "People on the street told me this would happen, but I didn’t believe them."
She later offered the following statement, saying "I am disappointed in the decision to terminate the Master Plan for our parks. This was a desperately needed boost that would have given something back to our residents. Seven council members voted for this improvement, and it was pulled without discussion from us. There was room for compromise, and to take baby steps. No other plan was brought forward. I want our citizens to enjoy our parks, and not look to other communities for their recreation needs. We’ve continually cut the parks budget, and now they are simply run down, showing major distress. It is definitely time to focus on our parks. The longer we wait, the more it will cost."
LaCorte said that she would like to encourage the public to attend the next Parks Commission meeting at Community Park on March 20 at 6 p.m.
Also, Development Director Dan Lorek announced that Whitehall School District and Eastland Joint Vocational School both voted to approve the city’s tax abatement and revenue sharing for the future FedEx development on Poth Road.
Council will be able to pass the ordinance to approve the new business at the next meeting.
The mayor’s office received numerous calls praising the hard work by the service department with snow removal during last week’s storm.
Service Director Ray Ogden said that he was proud of his team for diligently working around the clock. He also said that newly hired Code Enforcement Officer Walt Sural has been working hard to re-educate residents on code violations so they can be corrected and he has written almost 400 notices.
Ogden assured that there will be dramatic and remarkable changes in the city’s neighborhoods this year.
The next council meeting will be March 18 at 7 p.m.