With Mayor Evie McNiece actually having to hop off her neutrality perch to cast the deciding vote, the Rome City Commission by a rare 5-4 vote has in effect outlawed the keeping of chickens inside the city limits other than with a “special use” permit, and then only if living on a city lot many would consider the equivalent of an “estate” — three-quarters of an acre or more.
Even that would require begging the government’s permission, although those owning perhaps 75 percent of homes in Greater Rome need not even bother to apply. This seems to create a sort of class system whereby only those perhaps more likely to consider peacocks than chickens as valuable poultry can even ask. One wonders how many of the commissioners favoring this landed class (Evie McNiece, Jamie Doss, Bill Irmscher, Milton Slack III, Buzz Wachsteter) or wisely opposing it (Sue Lee, Detrick Redding, Kim Canada, Bill Collins) are now in this new “Upstairs, Downstairs” or “Downton Abbey” division of landed gentry versus servant class.
That this result took more than six months to accomplish while dominating commission attention is itself depressing. The time would have been better spent on debating whether to go it alone in building the Tennis Center of Rome by issuing bonds (as the same body did when golfing was the favorite) or in expediting the proposed 1,000-job shopping center along Riverside Parkway.
Frankly, if stripped of emotional content and misconceptions, this chicken stuff is simplicity itself to resolve as hundreds of cities already have.
MUCH AS with having dogs and cats — plus not needing “special-use permits” to have boa constrictors or tarantulas — it is health/safety standards and not the “allowing” that is the problem. This city argument was about allowing.
In a free country, the free citizens should be permitted to raise their own eggs and hot wings on their own property just as they can their own tomatoes and eggplants. Hint: Every gun-rights and religious-freedom activist should see the same core issue as being at stake.
Of course, let’s grant that in a city where stray dogs and cats are common, where unowned flocks of geese make some sidewalks slippery, where deer routinely damage cars, where squirrels run about uncontrolled in numbers at least equal to the “wild chickens” found everywhere in Hawaii, that perhaps city government isn’t as good at this as it has proven to be on some other matters. Apparently it also believes that goats being raised for meat in the city is an urban legend.
Come to think of it, there are perfectly legal cattle raised in town and, as City Manager John Bennett tried to remind the feather-plucking element, all those having chickens the past 10 years are protected by the grandfathering clause and can continue their operations. Some goat “farmers” are probably in this category as well by now. Indeed, perhaps all such should triple or quadruple their flocks/herds and give the excess to local feed-the-hungry efforts. At the current price of a dozen organic eggs, that could make for quite a nice charitable write-off on taxes.
SADLY, THERE was also evidence revealed that some of the commissioners are not even in touch with the real world, such as one being quoted to the effect that homeowners who are poor folk probably can’t afford to raise chickens anyway. Sigh ... free range are the best eggs, and Rome could really use help in controlling the growing tick population. Chickens love to gobble up ticks.
While this fuss was triggered by a West Rome family having chickens as part of a home-schooling program, what has actually fueled a major upsurge in national interest in keeping chickens are the twin driving forces of desiring organic food for health reasons and an economy making many struggle to keep food on the table.
Many, many cities much larger than Rome have both recently and since long ago allowed residents to raise chickens for both urban agriculture reasons and to lighten the demand on food banks.
Perhaps commissioners have heard of a place slightly larger called New York City. It allows chickens in its “concrete jungle.” Anywhere ... no location restrictions ... with chickens acceptable in residential, commercial and manufacturing zones. No roosters, however — or ducks, geese or turkeys where not only the males are noisy. How many chickens are allowed per owner? Any number — 10, 100, 1,000 or a million.
All control is done via health code nuisance ordinances regarding foul smells, flies, vermin generated by sloppy stewardship, with violators fined $200 climbing to $2,000 for repeat offenders. In other words, instead of using zoning the control comes from capitalism: the benefit-to-cost ratio. Nobody is going to have chickens if they don’t care for them properly, resulting in “free eggs” costing $200 a dozen.
ROME SHOULD have disposed of this issue in much the same way. The commissioners were hardly pioneering anything.
Worse, the end result is that there was a strong whiff of Big Nanny and a hint of turning Rome into a gated community with restrictive covenants in all this that should make all citizens, not just poultry fanciers, nervous. What next? Rules that grass must be kept mowed to a uniform one-inch height and the banning of flagpoles flying Old Glory even if done by homeowners who are decorated military veterans?
There’s a worrisome undercurrent to this and some other recent Rome commission actions that might make some wonder if their anointed leaders remember that it is people who live here, not pawns to be moved and sacrificed for some unknown end game. It’s not that any of the commissioners are “bad people,” although some may be a bit “out of it.” It is more that there are issues far more important for them to tackle. Leaving people alone to live their lives as they see fit (so long as no actual harm is done to others) is supposed to be a given in our country and not a foundation open to reconstruction.
True, there is a lot of room for chickens elsewhere in Floyd County — and anywhere in New York City and other places actually far, far more “urban” than Rome. Of course, commissioners knowing the expenses of moving/buying new homes may feel quite comfortable about keeping their captive audience caged up and laying property taxes for them.
WHICH CAME first? The chicken or the egging on of local residents to actually start opposing the routinely unopposed incumbents for election?
Perhaps the time has come for more Rome citizens to start cackling and then laying eggs that will hatch into new blood and ideas appearing. After all, really old hens showing signs of being worn out, no matter how productive in the past, are only good for stewing.