Fort Smith Board approves animal fine amendment

story by Aric Mitchell

The Fort Smith Board of Directors pushed through a late amendment to the recommendations of the Animal Services Advisory Board (ASAB) on Thursday (Dec. 27), but not without controversy.

The decision came at the board's last meeting of 2012, held at the Creekmore Community Center, and was narrowly affirmed by a third and final 4-3 vote.

The vote consisted of Directors George Catsavis, Philip Merry, Steve Tyler, and Pam Weber in the affirmative, and Directors Andre Good, Don Hutchings, and Kevin Settle dissenting.

However, certain parts of the ordinance, specifically an amendment authored by Director Merry and presented at the Dec. 18 meeting, may be in jeopardy once new board members take office on Jan. 1, 2013.

The City Wire spoke separately with Directors-Elect Keith Lau and Mike Lorenz during the third and final reading. The two men will take over for Tyler and Hutchings, respectively, and both shared Good and Settle's outlook that Merry's amendment was not in the best interests of the city.

Lorenz said that while revisiting the amendment was "not a priority," he would support doing so.

"I don't particularly care for the amendment," Lorenz said. "I don't think it serves the purpose of what the rest of the ordinance is trying to fix. I would like to see the committee's response to this ordinance getting passed the way it is. That was my problem, that we've added something that wasn't part of the final recommendation. Just to repeal it as is, I don't know if I'm behind doing that, but I would like to see the committee's final report of what they would like to have done."

Lorenz continued: "If it ends up being in a discussion, then yes, I would be in agreement to revisit and repeal. I don't think it (the Merry amendment) was the intention of what the committee (ASAB) spent 15 months working on, and I don't think it serves the purpose of the ordinance."

Lau agreed.

"I'm for letting committees do their jobs and bring their recommendations," Lau said.

Lau continued: "I'm so ready to get over this issue that I don't want to spend any more time, but I don't think it's a good ordinance with the amendment because it puts some burdens on the citizens. … It's the law of unintended consequences that I don't like. The original ordinance was pretty well thought through, and we shouldn't be amending it at the eleventh hour. That's what I consider micromanagement."

Concerning a timetable for when the issue could be revisited, Lau pointed out that "a couple of things in this ordinance were left undone – the extra costs for housing cats an additional two days and the cost for the animal control officer to enforce the regulations."

"Those are budgetary issues that we don't have the money to spend for, so what are we going to do about those? If we need to come back and revisit that (Merry amendment) at the time we're looking at those two things, then we probably will."

Merry's amendment calls for a $100 fine plus court costs for a first offense with the fine waived if the pet owner opts for spay-and-neuter. The second offense would result in a $200 fine plus court costs. Should the pet owner choose spay-and-neuter at that time, the fine would be reduced to $50 plus court costs.

On the third offense, the fine climbs to $300 plus court costs, or $100 plus court costs with the spay-and-neuter option. Finally, on a fourth offense, the fine reaches $400 plus court costs, or $200 and court costs with the spay-and-neuter option.

"If at any time the pet owner decides on spay-and-neuter within 30 days of the offense date, then the fine portion is fully waived. Payment of fines (and court costs as approved by the judge) can be replaced by working at a local animal shelter in hopes that education on the spay and neuter need to curb area animal overpopulation will occur," the Merry amendment states.

Also Thursday night, Lau spoke about the recent statement from Fort Smith citizen Cheryl Gilmore threatening a recall of Lau’s election to the Ward 1 seat in August.

Gilmore said in an e-mail that Lau was "overhead speaking with other directors that come January 2013 when he takes office, he will get rid of this problem and issue."

Gilmore is the former chair of the ASAB. She resigned July 18 after fallout from a lengthy and sarcastic e-mail she sent to Fort Smith Director Kevin Settle. Settle and Gilmore were part of a frank discussion during a July 9 study session. Gilmore’s e-mail was followed by a letter from ASAB vice-chair Nichole Morgan in which she was "deeply sorry" for the "uncalled for behavior" and "an excessively immature and petty reaction" from Gilmore.

Lau said he was "not worried about the recall," adding that he believed Gilmore represented "a very small group of people, who are against me taking the stand of less micromanagement and more fiscal responsibility, and that was pretty much proven in how many people showed up for the primary."