Democracy is a system of government by which political sovereignty is retained by the people and exercised directly by citizens. It is a system in which the people have a voice through their elected representatives. Abraham Lincoln spoke of “a government of the people, by the people, for the people” in the Gettysburg Address, and that is what we as a nation have aspired to – at least most of us.
Fast forward a couple of hundred years and visit Rockwood, Tennessee – the city where we have fought for EIGHT months against an ordinance that NO ONE in the city wanted… that is no one who wasn’t a member the city council.
What started out as a pit bull ban in December 2007 evolved over eight months time to an ordinance that regulated pit bulls, rottweilers, dobermans, German shepherds, chows and, oh yeah…every other dog over 30 pounds. Yes, you read that right… Any dog over 30 pounds would have had to adhere to the vicious dog regulations, which included a kennel that was buried two feet in the ground and had a roof, insurance, etc.
Last night, the city finally dropped the breed specific language from their vicious dog ordinance. After taking every opportunity to point out that it was outsiders – and not Rockwood residents – who were fighting this ordinance, they got a big surprise last night. Rockwood residents came out in force to make it very clear that this ordinance was not wanted, it violated their rights, it was unfair and it focused on the wrong end of the leash. Even more importantly, not a single person spoke in favor of the proposed ordinance.
Even after several Rockwood residents voiced their opposition to the council, Councilman Grover East stated:
I don’t think we need to listen to anybody. It doesn’t matter what anybody says. I think we should pass it. We are the city council, and we are the voice of the Rockwood citizens. We need to pass this for Rockwood.
Government by the people, for the people…??
Mr. East, your constituents spoke and you failed to listen. It is shameful that you would turn a deaf ear to the people that you represent – quite possibly the very same people who elected you – in an effort to carry out your personal agenda.
Speaking of having personal agendas. It was Councilman James Watts who drafted the latest version of the ordinance. He stated that he researched the issue on the internet for “hours and hours” while drafting the ordinance. When put on the spot by several people in attendance at the meeting – including council members – he was adamant that the ordinance was not breed specific. He said this was evidenced in that the ordinance did not ban breeds. How odd that someone who researched for hours and hours and months and months still did not know the basic definition of breed specific legislation. Obviously, regulation of a specific breed (as opposed to banning a breed), doesn’t change the fact that it is, in fact, breed specific legislation.
Nonetheless, Mr. Watts lied to everyone in the room last night as he insisted over and over that the ordinance did not name breeds. An older gentlemen stood up, his voice quivering, and he made this statement. “You lied to me, Mr. Watts. You told me this ordinance would not name specific breeds” Again, Mr. Watts stated the ordinance did not name breeds. You be the judge:
Amendment No. 1 to §10-204
Vicious Dog Definitions: There shall be added
(c) The definition of “restricted breeds” shall include:
(1) Staffordshire terrier breed of dog;
(2) The American pit bull terrier breed of dog;
(3) The American Staffordshire terrier breed of dog;
(4) Dogs of mixed breed or of other breeds than above listed which breed or mixed breed is known as pit bulls, pit bull dogs or pit bull terriers; or
(5) Any dog that has the appearance or characteristics of being predominantly of the bull terrier, staffordshire bull terrier, american pit bull terrier, american staffordshire terrier, chow chow, doberman pinscher, rottweiler or german shepherd or any dog commonly known as a pit bull, pit bull dogs, pit bull terriers, or a combination of many of these breeds.
I had the opportunity to speak at great length with Mr. Watts after last month’s meeting. Despite the fact that the very first thing he stated to me when I approached him was “I don’t care about statistics,” I actually thought we made some headway with him that night. He even stated he could not think of a single specific problem with pit bulls in the city. After reading his ordinance, however, it became very obvious, very quickly, that he was telling the truth. He really did not care about statistics – not at all. Anyone who took facts or statistics into consideration could not possibly have drafted that piece of garbage he called a “fair compromise.”
Oh yes, finally, we get to the garbage. Mayor Mike Miller. Where do I start?
Mayor Miller announced in December 2007 that he wanted to ban pit bulls from Rockwood. There had been no incidents in town. No dog attacks. No action to warrant this. It is my strong belief that Miller pursued a ban as the result of Jennifer Lowe’s death in Knox County immediately prior to Miller’s announcement of the proposed ban. He denies this, but if no incident in Rockwood sparked this desire for a ban, did he just wake up one morning and say, “I think we should ban pit bulls from the city.”
Mayor Miller had never taken the time to meet with or interact with pit bull owners, especially those who defend the much maligned breed. And when given the opportunity to do so, on more than one occasion, he declined. When asked if he would meet with pit bull owners, he stated that we could meet with any of the council members, but we should not be offended if he didn’t attend. He was a family man, you know, liked to spend all his extra time with his family, and he certainly didn’t have time for us or our concerns or to maybe learn the truth about a breed he wanted out of his city. Experts Karen Delise and Jim Crosby offered to speak with him. Again, Mayor Miller declined.
At every city council meeting I attended, Mayor Miller went out of his way to make me feel unwelcome. He was rude. He rolled his eyes and blew air and played with papers in front of him…he made every effort to make sure I knew he absolutely DID NOT care what I had to say. While seated right next to his fellow council member, James Watts, who boldly lied to his constituency repeatedly, Mayor Miller chided me last night for being “sarcastic” when I referred to Mr. Watts statement of not being interested in statistics. He also implied I was lucky to have been able to speak at the meetings at all.
I have attended city council meetings across the state of Tennessee over the last few years, and I have never been treated so rudely as I have in Rockwood. Below is a blog written by one of the city councilmen, Ray Collett, and posted to the Roane County site following the July 2008 council meeting:
I have beat my head against the wall about this ordinance. Personally, I don’t like “PitBulls”, but I do respect a responsible dog owners’ right to have any dog of his choosing, as most of you know. I will not vote for any ordinance banning any specific breed, however I only have one vote. One other coucilman also agrees with me. I have kept the people informed of what is going on and urged their participation, and I sincerely apologize for the way Ms. Preis was treated at our meeting Monday night. It was rude, red-necked and certainly disrespectful. My opinion is that some Councilmembers absolutely do not want any “outsiders” at the meetings, although they welcome their spending and the tax dollars from our local Wal=Mart. I appreciate what folks are doing and only wish that ANYONE from Rockwood would be there, it is absolutely ridiculous that some people drive a hundred miles, and others won’t drive a block or two. What I would suggest is another petition drive happen, but this time instead of shoppers at Wal-Mart, who are again mostly out-of-towners, concentrate on houses and voters in Rockwood. If a group went door to door in town and asked for signees, this would certainly carry a lot of weight as I am sure one or two of the Councilmen are considering an aspiration to be a candidate for Mayor next year. Maybe they will listen to the voters moreso than “out-of-towners. Please don’t take my blog the wrong way, as I will certainly NOT vote to ban or any mention of ANY specific breed, but I am only ONE. We need at least one more NO vote, then with a PASS we can defeat Councilman Watts proposed ordinance. Ray Collett
Elected officials are public servants. The last I checked, I was a member of the public. Do you treat everyone this way, Mayor Miller, or do you reserve it only for those who can’t vote for you?
Mr. Collett, as well as Mr. Evens, have been the only two voices of reason throughout this entire ordeal. They asked questions. They showed an interest. They researched the issue. In fact, Mr. Collett was firmly for the passing of a pit bull ban in December, but after researching and actually TALKING to people, he came to the logical and reasonable conclusion that any ordinance should focus on people and not dogs. My sincerest thanks go to both Mr. Collett and Mr. Evans for their ability to be open minded and use simple common sense.
The truth is, I don’t have to go back to Rockwood, but the citizens there still have to deal with this same city council. I can only hope they do a better job at “being the voice of their constituents” than they did this time.