Saturday, April 18, 2009

Doggie Catch "22"

It did not escape my attention that Emilio Jimenez-Perez's final offering is listed as Agenda item #22. Irony "rocks" as the younger set might say.

Brief precis: he has proposed an ordinance which would preclude Council from re-examining an ordinance, passed or failed, within 6 months of last final action unless 4 of the 7 members agreed to place it on agenda. There are exceptions to allow for adjusting to state or federal mandates, but... Cut to the chase, This might be called the "Save the doggie Ordinances" amendment.

Understand, I have sat on Emilio's patio and shared an adult beverage with him, I am with him well over 80% of the time, even though he is not my Councilmember. He is a good man and has a good record as Councilmember, but on this issue, we must agree to disagree.

It is a well established principle that one Council may not bind the next Council by Ordinance. This is why our last Charter Review Committee, of which I was a member, was proud of putting in play, for instance, the Capitol Improvements Planning. As a voter approved Charter Amendment, CIP is now an ongoing part of the budget process no future Council can ignore just because it might be inconvenient. In this instance, the draft ordinance has pretensions of a Charter Amendment without troubling ourselves with a Charter election.

As it is now, Emilio is retiring (as he promised), the two contenders for his seat are not running against him. Nonetheless, both candidates for his seat have been open as to their doubts about the recently passed by 4-3 vote, doggie ordinance package. Hypothetical: had this been a livelier race, and an issue such as this been key, would we not see this amendment as a limiting, "Dog-in-the-Manger" move? Another day and time, would a new City Council accept such an attempt to restrict its power?

Whoever prevails in SMD4, it will be, by definition, a "new" Council. When we are talking items passed 4-3 by existing Council, the "new" is critical.

Any elected Council, new or not, ought be allowed to consider, re-consider, or bring up new items as circumstances demand. "Stuff" happens, there might be all sorts of reasons we would want to re-examine a recent Ordinance. Any existing Council might find itself looking at new info or citizen input, and wanting to re-visit a recent Ordinance on short notice. I notice that of the three exceptions to the six month rule under the draft ordinance, citizen outcry is not included.

Practical aside, I am not a legal scholar with letters after my name, but my layman's read: This would violate Texas state statute, Constitution, and (forgive me for mentioning it) the intent of the law. How does one go about getting 4 votes just to put something on agenda without violating Open Meetings Statute? Open Meetings means just that: decisions by Council, or SAISD Board, or County Commissioners are to be arrived at in public meetings. None of these bodies are supposed to be meeting off-the-record and hashing things out in some "smoke-filled room" out of public view. If a quorum of such a body is to meet at a local cafe or watering hole, they best bring along a court recorder to take minutes of such a de facto "meeting".

The matter at hand, the "doggie ordinance" package is very likely to come up shortly after the May election. Aside from lively public comment, we have a new Animal Services Board advisory committee. This group, unlike its predecessor which had problems getting a quorum for meetings, is taking its tasking seriously.

City has already played "fast and loose" on this issue. A "committee" was appointed completely outside the Council-approved Bylaws of the existing Animal Services Board. Under Articles 5 and 6 of ASB Bylaws, any special committee is to be appointed by the ASB chair, and "shall be comprised of of a chairman, who must be a member of the Board...". Unless Council has formed a separate Committee to override the existing ASB, a dubious proposition at best, any sub-committee tasked to study doggie ordinances should have been appointed by the new ASB Chair, Jennie Wilson, and have had as its Chair "a member of the Board", which this group does not.

Realistically, the best option for the City would be to put enforcement of the "doggie ordinance" package on hold. The Texas legislature has a few bills still in the hopper which might add statewide requirements as to breeders, spay/nueter, and humane confinement. Frankly, we have been wrestling with this issue for at least four years. We have a problem, not a crisis. This is a real good time to step back, let the new ASB have a chance at doing its job, wait for State Statute (or not), and then, with all facts in, take the matter up and deal with it properly. Frankly, my guess would be after Labor Day, maybe sooner, but sometimes quorums are hard to come by during summer vacation season.

Come May 10, we will have a new Council. I am not speaking for either SMD4 candidate, but were I in that position, I would be offended at this attempt to limit my franchise as Councilmember. Current Council can do the "new" Council a favor by voting against item 22 this Tuesday.

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