Hilliard City Council members said they would seek feedback from multiple animal-rescue and adoption agencies before reconsidering a policy next year to mitigate the city’s feral-cat population.
As expected Nov. 25, council members walked back proposed legislation that would have made it a minor misdemeanor to “feed, harbor or house” a feral cat in the city.
ThisWeek on Nov. 15 had reported council President Kelly McGivern's intentions to make a motion to withdraw the legislation, which she had proposed Oct. 28.
“It was never the intent of council to promote any action to harm (cats). ... I’m thrilled with the outcry and outpour of offers (to find an alternative solution),” McGivern said before asking that the legislation be withdrawn Nov. 25.
Nevertheless, dozens of people from a crowd of more than 100 addressed council for more than two hours, criticizing the proposal of the legislation, thanking council for withdrawing it and offering assistance to craft an alternative policy.
Speakers included individuals from Columbus Humane, the Humane Society of the United States and Colony Cats (& dogs), as well as people who care for feral cats at their own time and expense, many of whom traveled to the council meeting from outside Hilliard.
“I’d have been so disappointed if (council) would have (moved forward),” said Hilliard resident Michele Childs, a volunteer for Powell-based Cozy Cat Cottage Adoption Center, after the conclusion of the public hearing for the withdrawn legislation. “It would have been a horrible precedent to set. They understood our passion.”
Carolee Luberto of Westerville said the proposed law was “inhumane.”
“Thank you for taking it off the books ... but if it comes back on, we will be back,” she said.
Council member Les Carrier said the city would seek “to find a balance for everyone” after the legislation was withdrawn, prompting an outburst of applause from the audience.
“I don’t want you blowing up my inbox anymore,” Carrier said.
But not every speaker was reading from the same script.
Hilliard resident Charles Smith told residents a cat ripped the cover on his 18-foot ski boat and destroyed its interior to raise a litter of kittens.
Smith also recounted a neighbor whose miniature dog was attacked in its backyard by feral cats and told council members cats had destroyed flower beds and urinated on porches.
“What if (people like me) blew up your inbox?” said Smith, who suggested the city compensate people whose property was destroyed by feral cats.
“We will look for a balance,” McGivern said.
McGivern said she had asked for the legislation to be drafted because of continuing complaints that she quantified as three in the past four months.
Council member Omar Tarazi questioned the legislation after its introduction Oct. 28, and on Nov. 25, after McGivern asked for it to be withdrawn, he intimated council could have avoided the public backlash if it had taken more time to vet the idea before introducing the legislation.
“We’re trying to do too much at once,” Tarazi said about the Oct. 28 meeting when the legislation was introduced alongside other measures.
He later explained to ThisWeek that for five months out of the year, because of government holidays and council’s recess, all business typically is handled in a series of committee meetings and a single council meeting, which “creates tremendous pressure on those marathon meetings, and my concern is that things are going through with neither the general public nor many council members understanding the full consequences of what they’re voting on.”
McGivern said the feral-cat issue was raised in the spring, but after she solicited input from animal-support organizations and received no response, she proposed the legislation.
“Nothing was rammed through,” she said, noting the withdrawn ordinance would have received three readings and would not have had final consideration until January.
In response to Tarazi, she said, “There is a lot of things we have to deal with on City Council; I’m sorry if it’s overwhelming to you.”
She said Tarazi also had supported the placement of the legislation on the Oct. 28 agenda; the withdrawn ordinance had advanced out of a committee-of-the-whole meeting Oct. 28, she said.
Council has multiple committees, each composed of three members, but a committee of the whole refers to when all seven members meet to consider legislation before it is voted to advance from that committee for council consideration.
Tarazi confirmed he voted Oct. 28 to advance the proposed legislation to the agenda despite misgivings.
“I didn’t see a practical difference between discussing it in a committee of the whole versus the regular council meeting, as you have all the same council members present anyway,” he said.
But at a regular meeting, more people are present “and I thought it was preferable to get more comments from the public,” Tarazi said.
Meanwhile, McGivern said any new proposal would take place in council’s public-safety and legal-affairs committee.
“We need advice from professionals,” council member Tom Baker said. “If we are going to do something, let’s do it right.”
It appears some of that advice could come from Columbus Humane, 3015 Scioto Darby Executive Court, just east of Hilliard.
Rachel Finney, CEO of Columbus Humane, said she commended council “for hitting pause and further exploring how to meet the needs of animals and people.”
Finney said Columbus Humane offers a free spay-and-neuter service for individuals who practice “trap, neuter and release,” or TNR, for short.
Vanessa Willis of Franklin Street said she virtually eliminated feral cats 10 years ago by practicing TNR and successfully deployed it again after feral cats returned. She said she believes the cats reappeared in her neighborhood after being displaced when the city demolished or remodeled abandoned grain silos and other structures to build the Landmark Lofts mixed-use development at 5260 Franklin St.
Corey Roscoe, the state director for the Humane Society of the United States, thanked council for withdrawing the legislation and provided guidance for TNR.
“We want to be a resource for your city to achieve the best possible outcome,” he said.
Roscoe said the best solutions are reached when “all the stakeholders are at the table.”
Council member Nathan Painter, whose term expires in four weeks, said council needs to take advantage of the resources being offered.
“If you write law before you understand the problem, you’re going to make it worse,” he said
That discussion is expected to begin in early January at council’s public-safety and legal-affairs committee, according to McGivern.