Kids in the Hall

By Andy Balaskovitz

Mayor’s call for vicious dog ordinance, revised snow removal ordinance has Council support. Setting a date with Niowave. The computer thing.

Tuesday, Feb. 25 — Mayor Virg Bernero says the city needs to address its “vicious dog” problem and the “bureaucratic nightmare” of a snow removal ordinance. And it looks like the City Council agrees.

“We have a serious problem with vicious dogs,” Bernero told the Council at its meeting Monday night. “We have people in this city living in fear.”

He was telling the Council to get moving on drafting a vicious dog ordinance that would likely involve regulations on securing scary hounds on owners’ property. Details of such an ordinance are scarce. It’ll likely be contentious over whether to go “breed specific.”

Bernero said the “vast majority” of instances when the Lansing Police Department has had to shoot dogs involved a pit bull. “I know some people don’t like it when I say the truth about pit bulls. But they seem to be the ones we have the most problems with,” he said.

However, Bernero recognizes that different communities across the country regulate vicious dogs in various ways. “I leave it to the Council the best way to write the ordinance,” he said.

Bernero also spoke publicly about what he calls the city’s relatively new “impractical and unnecessary” snow removal ordinance adopted by the Council in September 2010.

Under the ordinance, residents are responsible for clearing snow and ice from sidewalks in front of their properties. If it is not cleared within 24 hours of a “snow event,” the city mails out notices that residents must clear the snow within 24 hours after being notified. If they don’t, the city will do it and add the bill to the resident’s tax roll.

Bernero said the ordinance should function more like a parking violation: If you haven’t cleared snow within 24 hours, then the city will clear it for you and bill you, like a ticket.

“The ordinance we have is really not working,” he said. “We’re having real trouble enforcing the ordinance you passed. … We’ve set up a bureaucratic nightmare. By the time we get done trying to follow the ordinance, it’s like a week before we can actually clear the sidewalk. … Why are we bothering with notices?”

Council members Derrick Quinney, Jody Washington, Tina Houghton and A’Lynne Boles-Robinson publicly supported addressing the two issues. Quinney and Washington, who chair the Public Services and Public Safety committees, respectively, said they each plan to take a look at legislation in committee. Houghton and Boles-Robinson urged caution on going hastily into a breed-specific vicious dogs ordinance, but agreed there’s a need for some regulation.

In scheduled business, the Council unanimously approved setting a public hearing for March 11 on a tax abatement request from Niowave. It might be an otherwise normal approval process, except for the fact that the company built a 14,000-square-foot pole barn in the middle of a residential neighborhood last year.

The tax abatement is now worth over $500,000 as the company seeks to waive taxes on about $5 million worth of new personal property over six years. Three Walnut neighborhood residents, who live near Niowave’s property, spoke out against the abatement tonight, as they have over the past six months.

At-Large Councilman Brian Jeffries, who chairs the Development and Planning Committee overseeing the situation, still has problems Niowave’s request and acknowledged that the relationship between the company and the neighbors is as bad as it’s ever been. All along, Jeffries said tonight, Niowave agreed to delay its request until it sorted things out with neighbors. It doesn’t look like that’s happened, though.

“This has been devastating to our community,” said Walnut Neighborhood Organization President Rina Risper. Neighbors have made similar statements over the past six months. “We have this huge, 14,000-square-foot, three-story-high structure and we can’t even get a conversation with the individuals who built it to speak with us and come to some logical resolution.”

In almost-happened business during the Council’s Committee of the Whole meeting Monday, a vote to go into closed session to discuss “attorney-client privileged written communications” was blocked after the Council couldn’t muster the necessary six votes.

Council President Carol Wood, Washington, Quinney, Boles-Robinson and Jeffries all wanted to go into closed session. Councilwoman Kathie Dunbar and Houghton didn’t. Jessica Yorko was absent, though she likely wouldn’t have agreed to do so anyway.

The vote died quietly and the Council waited around about a half hour till its regular meeting started at 7 p.m. But Dunbar, during the regular meeting, said: “I’ve heard that I am the topic of that closed session again.”

She’s referring to the past three weeks of internal Council politics involving her  broken laptop computer that was discussed in closed session last month. Dunbar has alleged it’s a politically motivated attack against her led by Jeffries, which he’s denied.

“I would invite anyone who would like to discuss my computer to not do it behind closed doors,” Dunbar said tonight. “If you have an issue, bring it out here. … There’s enough innuendo about what’s happened. I say no closed session, let’s do it on the floor.”

Pick up Wednesday’s City Pulse for more on this one.