County residents debate dog ordinance at commission meeting
Doggone it, this issue has people worked up.
About 20 Pocahontas County residents showed up Tuesday at the county commission meeting to voice their opinions both for and against a countywide dog ordinance. Commissioners found their audience chairs filled, extras brought in, people standing outside the commission room and sitting in their floor to discuss what has become a hotly contested issue.
The dozen people who spoke were fairly evenly for and against; however, a few of them on either side of the issue will not be affected by the county dog ordinance because they live in the Town of Marlinton, which has its own dog ordinance.
Both sides had compelling arguments for commissioners to consider.
Some of the dog owners against the ordinance reminded commissioners that dogs bark at ﾓintrudersﾔ on their property whether they are human or animal.
ﾓI donﾒt disagree that we have a problem in places in the county,ﾔ Republican county commission candidate Jamie Walker said. But, he said, coyotes surround his home every night, causing his dogs to bark. Walker said there are no guidelines for when barking becomes a problem and called for the ordinance to be rewritten.
Michael Galford wanted to know if the ordinance had a distance limit.
ﾓCan a neighbor call from a mile away?ﾔ he asked. Coyotes, he said, howl similarly to his dogs and may be mistaken for his pets.
ﾓWeﾒve got to remember we live in Pocahontas County,ﾔ Galford told commissioners. ﾓWeﾒve been here all our lives and thatﾒs the way itﾒs been. We go to passing a bunch of laws and itﾒs going to be like the city.ﾔ
Slaty Fork sawmill owner Ralph Beckwith said he doesnﾒt believe the ordinance is necessary and also conveyed his fear that the dog ordinance is ﾓjust the beginningﾔ of more county regulations the commission will instigate. But the venerable Beckwith had some other words of caution for the commission.
ﾓI do not think this is a countywide problem,ﾔ he said. ﾓIﾒm concerned that only one or two people have complained and youﾒre taking it [forward] because of them. And they may or may not be influential people who helped you get elected to this job. If the dog warden and the sheriff are able to do their job, you would not have this problem.ﾔ
And Curtis Walker, of Mill Point, said heﾒd moved out of Hillsboro so that his 25 dogs would not disturb his neighbors. Surrounded by farms, though, Walker said his own peace and quiet is disturbed by cows ﾓbellering and bawlingﾔ when farmers separate calves from their mothers. Itﾒs a fact of life he accepts.
ﾓThis is Pocahontas County,ﾔ Curtis Walker said.
But those in favor of the ordinance asked that they be given a legal course of action when dogs are a nuisance, either with noise or trespassing.
Dwayne Kennison said in his youth, trespassing dogs that attacked his family dogs were shot without much ceremony. Kennison said he believes that without an ordinance, some people might take that ﾓold schoolﾔ approach.
Kennison said he did have a complaint with one section of the ordinance, but supported the concept.
ﾓMost hunters take good care of their dogs,ﾔ he said. ﾓSome owners donﾒt do that.ﾔ
Innkeeper and Marlinton Town Council member David Zorn said he has had to refund money or comp guests on three occasions because their stay was disturbed by a barking dog. Zorn reminded commissioners that tourism contributes about $3 million annually to the countyﾒs coffers. Further, he said guests with a good experience typically tell three people, while guests with bad experiences typically tell 10.
ﾓPeople are entitled to peace and quiet,ﾔ he said.
In Frank, Dixie and Lee Stine have a neighbor who walks her dog early in the morning. The Stines try to sleep while the dog ﾓyaps constantly,ﾔ disturbing them. Efforts to speak with her to resolve the issue have not been successful, the Stines said.
ﾓItﾒs been a very bad situation because of the proximity of the houses in Frank,ﾔ Lee Stine said. ﾓFrank is not out in the country and the dog is 25 feet from our window.ﾔ
Stine said others have advised him to kill the dog.
ﾓNot me,ﾔ he said. ﾓI donﾒt do that.ﾔ
Commissioner David Fleming thanked the people who came to speak.
ﾓFar and away most bear and other hunter issues can be worked out peacefully,ﾔ Fleming said. He also noted that the sheriff has said most issues wonﾒt get a law enforcement response. But Fleming said he felt obliged to continue with the ordinance.
ﾓI feel itﾒs my responsibility,ﾔ he said. ﾓItﾒs my intention to pass this ordinance and to continually discuss it and improve it as we go along.ﾔ
The ordinance passed 2-1 on second reading, with commissioner Reta Griffith opposed.
Griffith said parts of the ordinance are ﾓunenforceable.ﾔ
Commission to hold special session
The commission will meet in special session Friday at 8:30 a.m. to take up the matter of the pending West Virginia Public Service Commission status conference to be held November 22, and to discuss the employment of outside counsel to represent them.
Commission attempts to go into executive session Tuesday to discuss hiring outside counsel to represent them at that hearing were thwarted when members of the media objected on the grounds that commission president Martin Saffer did not cite the code and its subsection that permitted a secret session.
Under the West Virginia Open Meetings Act, or Sunshine Law, public bodies are allowed to go into executive session for 11 reasons, including:
ﾕmatters of war
ﾕdiscipline or expulsion of students
ﾕ the issuance, effecting, denial, suspension, or revocation of a license, certificate or registration
ﾕthe physical or mental health of a person
ﾕany material whose disclosure would constitute an unwarranted invasion of an individualﾒs privacy
ﾕofficial investigations or matters relating to crime prevention or law enforcement
ﾕdevelopment of security personnel or devices
ﾕsale or lease of property, advance construction planning, investment of public funds or other matters involving competition
ﾕpremature disclosure of an honorary degree, scholarship, prize or similar award
ﾕmatters that by express provision of federal or state statute or rule of court are rendered confidential.
According to the West Virginia Press Associationﾒs legal counsel Philip Reale, ﾓthere is no exception for merely discussing whether it is prudent to hire outside counsel for a unique area of law [in which] the commission needs representation.ﾔ
Saffer made a motion to go into executive session after the protest and after the code section was read to him.
Fleming seconded the motion for purposes of discussion, but warned Saffer that he planned to vote against the motion if the law did not specifically provide for the commissionﾒs special circumstance.
The commission has voted to become an intervener in the case Beckwith, et al vs. Pocahontas County Public Service District, but has not filed pleadings in the case. The commission has asked for a status conference November 22, one of two dates the West Virginia Public Service Commission had open to hear their case.
Saffer appeared to be adamant that Pocahontas County Prosecuting Attorney Donna Meadows could not represent the commission in this case; however, he did request that she be present for the special session Friday and that the commission could go into executive session at that time.
ﾓNothing in this article permits a public agency to close a meeting that otherwise would be open, merely because an agency attorney is a participant,ﾔ states WV Code Chapter 6-9A-4.
No votes can be taken in executive session and a violation of the act can result in fines up to $500 for the first offense and $1,000 for the second offense. Court costs and attorney fees can be recovered from the offending public body, according to the code.
In other action, the commission:
ﾕvoted 2-1 to change a road name from Fairview Road to Clifford Sharp Road at the request of the residents on that portion of the road. Saffer dissented.
ﾕvoted 2-1 to contribute $5,000 to Allegheny Mountain Radio for its drive to have an FM station to enhance radio reception in the county seat. Gibbs Kinderman had requested $10,000, but commissioners were wary of spending that much money when Pocahontas Memorial Hospital is still in uncertain economic waters.ﾠ Saffer dissented.
ﾕvoted to approve a cost overrun of $17,500 for the roof project at the courthouse annex. Contractors ran into some unknown construction problems once the existing roof was removed.
ﾕvoted to name November 7-13 as Scottish Rite Week.
ﾕvoted to pass the Flood Plain Ordinance on second reading.
ﾕvoted to be a sponsor for the Sustainable Food Grant program to hire a part-time employee who will be a liaison between growers and buyers of locally grown meats and produce.
ﾕapproved an in-house budget revision.
ﾕagreed to change the county commission meeting scheduled for November 16 to November 15 so that Saffer and Fleming can attend training. A similar request from Griffith in August was denied by her fellow commissioners. She expressed her disappointment at this turn of events, but voted in favor of the move. Saffer said he would not be available after 1 p.m. that day.
The commission will meet again in regular session November 3, the day after the General Election.