Today brought the news that a judge has thrown out the city’s dangerous dog ordinance. Or did he?
Before I try to make it clearer for you, and for myself, frankly, let me say these new developments represent yet another convoluted part of an already-convoluted situation. But don’t take the word convoluted to mean insubstantial. There are real issues at play here.
Nominally, the issue on which this latest action hinges is the open meetings law. Elected offices have to advertise their meetings in advance, so the media and public can plan to attend if they so choose. It doesn’t matter if I never cover a Metro Council caucus meeting — they have to let me know where and when it is in a timely way. If someone has the regular caucus meeting room tied up for something else and it gets moved to another room, notice must be posted of the new room.
In his Feb. 26 ruling, which surfaced today, Judge Martin McDonald held that the Democratic caucus of the Metro Council failed to properly advertise a meeting that preceded the council’s full meeting of Dec. 19, 2006. The caucus met on a day it normally does not and discussed the dangerous dog ordinance. Later, after a 9-hour meeting, the council passed the ordinance that had been significantly reworked at the last minute.
Here is where it becomes more complicated. After the Dec. 19 vote, the Louisville Kennel Club filed suit alleging that the Democratic caucus violated the open meetings law. On the advice of the county attorney’s office, which had advised the council as it drafted the dog ordinance that passed in 2006, the council re-passed the ordinance again in April 2007. The county attorney told the council that doing so would nullify the open meetings suit.
It gets more complicated. Some council members, from both parties, thought the ordinance (here, we refer to the December 2006 version and the April 2007 version synonymously, as the content was the same) had loose ends. Councilman Kelly Downard, who has been, uh, dogged about this ordinance from the get-go, headed up that effort through a subcommittee of the council’s public safety committee. Downard (R-16), Kevin Kramer (R-11), Tina Ward-Pugh (D-9,) Vicki Welsh (D-13) and Judith Green (D-1), sat on the subcommittee.
A primary focus of the subcommittee was changing the terminology as it relates to which dogs are subject to the ordinance’s more stringent oversight. Before the Dec. 19 meeting the focus had been on specific breeds. At the last minute, the word “unaltered” was subbed, meaning that any dog not spayed or neutered would cost more to license and be subject to extra stipulations. The implication was that altered dogs are more likely to cause problems.
The subcommittee heard expert testimony from a range of professionals, who uniformly said a dog’s altered status has no direct bearing on whether it is predisposed to or more likely to exhibit violent behavior. The subcommittee met for several months before taking its suggested revisions — including the removal of “unaltered” from most of the ordinance’s stipulations — to the full council for its last meeting of 2007. The council passed the amended ordinance.
In his ruling, McDonald noted that the passage of a revised ordinance in April 2007 didn’t alleviate the problems from the 2006 version, namely that the earlier version was no good because of the illegal meeting. Simply put, the April 2007 ordinance was the “progeny” of the 2006 meeting, and without the earlier meeting, there would have been no ordinance to amend.
The lawsuit did not reflect the December 2007 changes, however, and it’s on that basis that the city maintains that McDonald’s actions don’t actually affect the current ordinance. Tomorrow, I suspect that plaintiffs’ attorney Jon Fleischaker will ask McDonald to roll that action into his ruling. If McDonald looks at the December 2007 amendment as more “poison fruit,” the dog ordinance will be toast and the Metro Council will be faced with passing it from scratch.
Downard told me tonight that he plans to ask — implore might be a better word — his Metro Council colleagues to hire outside legal counsel in this matter, because he’s lost confidence in the county attorney’s office. He noted that two representatives of the office — Bill Warner and Bill O’Brien — were present at the illegal caucus meeting and advised council members that they were within the law.
That’s where it is for now. It is complex and confusing. I imagine there will be much more to discuss on Thursday. (CS)