Last week’s vote by the York County Council to reject a sensible proposal to streamline animal control in the county makes us wonder whether a majority of the council understands how government functions.
County staff, with the support of animal advocates in the county, had written a proposal that would have incorporated some existing state laws dealing with livestock and large animals with the county’s law. That would have given county animal control officers the authority to write tickets for offenses, relieving county sheriff’s deputies of that duty and allowing them to tend to other law enforcement issues.
The proposal also included new rules requiring pet owners to spay female dogs tethered outside and to register with the county if they have five or more cats or dogs. Spaying tethered female dogs makes complete sense because a tethered dog in heat is highly susceptible to being impregnated by any passing male dog.
Unfortunately, with a 4-3 vote against the plan, staff members now will have to start over, rewriting the parts of the proposal that focus on enforcement.
The reasons council members gave for opposing the plan were puzzling. For example, Councilman Bruce Henderson complained that the language contained “amendment after amendment” and wondered if it would deter people from rescuing animals.
But much of the plan is explicitly designed to reduce the population of unwanted pets and deter people from having too many animals in their homes. Steve Stuber, county animal control director, noted that fewer than 30 percent of the 835 dogs and cats accepted by the shelter in May were adopted, rescued or returned to their owners.
The plan presented Monday addressed that problem. So, why did four councilmen oppose it?
Chairman Britt Blackwell said the plan had too many new laws in it, and he wanted to start fresh. Eric Winstead said it lacked “proactive” language to prevent violations. Curwood Chappell said he was against it even though he had not had time to read the entire proposal.
This is the second time in recent weeks that the same majority has rejected proposed ordinance changes outright, forcing county staff to “start fresh.” Last month, the four councilmen rejected the county’s new Unified Development Ordinance, or UDO, telling staff, in effect, to make sweeping changes in a proposal the county has been working on since 2009.
We understand that council members are not obligated to rubber stamp all proposals that come before them. But bother the animal control revisions and the UDO contained important improvements to existing county laws.
Council members need to understand that the process for updating these laws requires three “readings.” That means council members get several chances to improve the proposals before the final “reading” or approval.
The process is designed to allow for the improvement of flawed proposals. We’re baffled as to why the council would not let that process play out for these key proposals. Instead, members wasted months or years of county employees’ time.