Monday, March 12, 2012

Has the Canton City Council REALLY considered an Animial Control Policy Change to Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR)?

What follows is a "real life" Stark County Politics 101 lesson on how political/governmental factors come together in public policy decision making (in this instance Canton City Council) and who impacts those decisions and why or why not. 

The SCPR is not taking a position for or against a Canton policy change on its animal control policy.

Only and only when a YouTube video surfaced purportedly showing animal abuse by Canton Animal Control Officer Phil Sedlacko (in the context of his Stark County Dog Pound employment) did Canton City Council seemingly take a look at Canton's animal control policies which at the end of the day appear to be "trap and have euthanized."

The supposed examination of policy was in response to a "hue and cry" coming from the great body of animal lovers who inhabit Stark County (not necessarily Canton) and beyond.

From what the SCPR can see, the look-see was just that - a glance - and there was never any real intent on the part of Canton officials and most council members that the complaints from a few Cantonians and a large group of out-of-towners of council and the Healy administration seriously reviewing its policies on animal control.

Now word comes down that council is going to move forward at tonight's meeting (7:30 PM) to extend Sedlacko's contract for nearly two years (until December 31, 2013).

Moral of the story?
  • Canton's lawmakers (in the majority sense) have predetermined that they are not going to allow out-of-towners to affect its policies, and
  • Canton's governmental procedures, processes and resources will be brought to bear to ensure the predetermined outcome
And that is the message most councilpersons are sending out in a number of ways.

It is a truism that those who own and/or work with animals in a public service context (i.e. dog pound volunteers, trap-neuter-return, et cetera) are passionate about animals.

But to many members of Canton City Council,  animal control within Canton's boundaries is not a matter or liking or disliking animals.  It is a matter of the political business of responding to the complaints of their constituents.  Non-constituents can take a hike!

The focus of broadly defined animal control in Canton as the underlying hot topic is with feral (wild) cats.  Residents (who, of course, are councilmember constituents) have been complaining to council for years that these animals are a nuisance at best, a health threat and/or property destroying at worst and need to be controlled by elimination.  Most Cantonians who have an opinion on feral cats and who are communicating with councilpersons, do not want feral cat trapped, neutered (and, perhaps, inoculated) and RETURNED to their neighborhoods.

And out-of-towners are not constituents.

While council (except maybe perhaps Councilman David Dougherty - when he subs for President Alan Schulman as president) will listen respectfully and in a courteous manner at Public Speaks to the pleas from those who come to Canton council from out-of-town, it appears that their cry for a change in Canton's animal control policy has always fallen on deaf ears as far as a majority of Canton's councilmembers are concerned.

Only Councilwoman Mary Cirelli (at-large) seems interested in the out-of-towners mission to effect a policy change as well as terminating Phil Sedlacko's job with Canton.  The SCPR's take on Councilman Frank Morris III is that he does not necessarily object to current policy but that he does favor the ending of Canton's contractual relationship with Sedlacko.  However, Councilpersons Smith, Hawk and West speak glowing of Sedlacko.

A soon as the YouTube generated controversy surfaced, one can see the wheels of Personnel Committee Chairman Patrick Barton (7th Ward) turning.  A burgeoning crisis to be contained, no?  Undoubtedly, he had conversations with Safety Director Thomas Ream as to how to handle the outpouring of animal lover outrage that they were beginning to receive as a consequence of the video surfacing.


Renew the Sedlacko contract for 90 days to cool things down in the immediate time frame and schedule a meeting in the context of a council work session for Canton Health Director James M. Adams who, Councilman Barton certainly knew beforehand, would come in a say that having feral cats - neutered or not - running at large in Canton are a health risk to Cantonians.

At best Adams arguments were "a matter of opinion," no better, no worse than those of the TNR crowd, and the truth of the matter is that there is no definitive study that established the fact of the matter either way.

However, the work session context was the perfect setting to protect Adams from any critically bent questions from the TNRers in attendance.  Only councilmembers are allowed to question/speak at work sessions unless outsiders are given special dispensation by a committee chair and Patrick Barton was having none of that.

In fact, after Adams left the work session chamber he was sort of cornered by TNR advocates peppering him with questions which prompted Chairman Barton to get a bit unnerved.  He pounced on the scene and asked Adams whether or not he felt bothered.  To which Adams responded in the negative.

It is interesting that shortly after Barton expressed his concerns about Adams, a Canton policeman could be seen to be posted nearby.

A TNR advocate Tobin Franks of Louisville, Ohio has gone to the trouble of putting together a Town Hall Meeting put on by Ally Cats Allies mainly for the benefit of Canton city councilpersons on the merits of TNR for this coming Wednesday.

It is interesting that a vote on Sedlacko has been scheduled two days prior to councilmembers having the opportunity "to be educated."  Coincidence?  Hmm?

The SCPR believes that the extending of Sedlacko's contract is a clear indication that council's majority has no interest whatsoever in changing its feral cat policy.  Moreover, if council acts tonight, as many expect, to extend Sedlacko, then - pardon the pun - "the cat is out of the bag."

Who thinks many, if any, Canton councilpersons or Healy administration members will be attending Wednesday?

Apparently, not Franks. 

It seems to the SCPR that "the achilles heel" of the TNR folks' position is not so much the weakness of their argument but that they are by-and-large from out-of-town.

Here is a copy of a plea Franks' has issued for Cantonians (evidence that the out-of-towners factor is not lost on him) to show up in numbers to stop council's contemplated action on the Sedlacko contract.

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