Council OKs ordinance addressing animals in hot cars on first reading

Thursday, April 25, 2019

The Eureka Springs City Council spent much of its Monday night meeting debating a proposed ordinance that would prohibit people from confining animals in hot or cold vehicles.

Alderwoman Melissa Greene thanked city attorney Tim Weaver for drawing up the proposed ordinance, saying it's exactly what she hoped it would be. The proposed ordinance says it is a violation of city law to confine an animal in an unattended, enclosed vehicle when the outside temperature is 70 degrees or more and the interior of the vehicle is not provided with conditioned air or adequate ventilation to maintain an internal temperature of 100 degrees or less.

It would also violate city law, the proposed ordinance says, if an animal is left in an unattended vehicle where the outside temperature is 30 degrees or less and the interior of the vehicle is not provided with heated air to maintain an internal temperature of at least 30 degrees. Alderwoman Mickey Schneider asked if Weaver could add a clause saying it's OK if the animals are provided with blankets, and Weaver said that would be a tough call.

"How much good blankets do probably has something to do with what type of animal is in there," Weaver said. "This ordinance refers to animals, so if you have a cold-blooded animal in there, a blanket wouldn't do any good for it, because a blanket can't generate its own heat. If we do that, we're going to end up with a book rather than an ordinance."

Schneider suggested specifying it's OK to provide dogs with blankets, and Weaver said many different animals visit Eureka Springs with their owners. If the police officer can't find the animal's owner, Schneider asked, can the officer break into the car to remove the animal?

"It's my understanding they have the ability to do that if the animal appears to be in immediate distress," Weaver said.

"Do we need to add that in writing any place in here?" Schneider asked.

"Again, if we add everything to cover every contingency, we are going to end up with a book," Weaver said.

Alderman Terry McClung said he's not comfortable with the section of the proposed ordinance dealing with cold temperatures.

"I'm not for the way it's written," McClung said. "I'm fine with the upper temperatures."

Alderman Bob Thomas said the proposed ordinance is based on a Fayetteville ordinance, saying he spoke with the Fayetteville Police Department when researching the issue.

"They said they could not pass an ordinance with the high temperature in it, that it would not be legal unless it had a low temperature in it," Thomas said.

Weaver said he wasn't sure about that but felt it was important to include low temperatures to accommodate all animals. Greene moved to approve the proposed ordinance on a first reading, and everyone voted yes except McClung.

The council moved on to discuss the procedure behind reading letters during public comments, with Mayor Butch Berry recalling citizen Bob Jasinski's statement that reading letters is vital for citizens with disabilities. Alderwoman Susan Harman agreed, saying there are many reasons why someone couldn't make it to a meeting.

"Something may happen with your car and you couldn't get to the meeting and you might miss that opportunity," Harman said.

Berry said the letters would still be distributed to the council, and Harman asked if they would be included in the minutes.

"They can always be attached as written," Berry said.

Weaver said the letters would be unavailable to the public if they are included in the minutes, saying some citizens might not be able to read. Weaver suggested setting a limit on reading letters similar to the three-minute limit for those who speak during public comments.

"If they want to get their comments out, it probably behooves the city to have that opportunity," Weaver said. "Otherwise, eventually someone is going to complain to a court."

Berry asked if there's a law requiring public comments, and Weaver said there isn't.

"We do not need to have public comments," Weaver said. "We could completely cut off that avenue of people coming in to address other citizens or the council."

Schneider said it's important to give the public a chance to address the community during public comments, whether that's by speaking or submitting a letter.

"Our number one goal, and don't forget this, is the people," Schneider said. "We represent the people. Ergo, if they have something to say, we should say it for them when they can't make it."

Thomas moved to establish a rule saying council members cannot read letters from the public, and Schneider objected.

"Unless we appoint someone to be here to be able to take care of those letters, we are totally disregarding our duty to our people," Schneider said.

Harman agreed.

"I'll volunteer to read them all. I feel like they have that right," Harman said.

The motion passed 4-2, with Thomas, McClung, Greene and Harry Meyer voting yes and Harman and Schneider voting no.

Also at the meeting, the council addressed its March 25 vote to reduce ECHO Village's water hook-up fees from $8,800 to $6,700. Thomas said he looked over the ordinance regarding the council's right to waive fees and found the tap fee cannot be reduced.

"I don't think the ordinance provides for that," Thomas said. "It's the capacity fee that can be adjusted."

Harman asked if that negates the council's vote.

"At this point, I would have to go back and look at it, but yes, it very possibly does," Weaver said.

Thomas said he wants more time to look over the ordinance and watch the video of the council's March 25 meeting.

"It would be nice to know what we can and can't do," Thomas said.

The council's next meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, May 13, at The Auditorium.

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