At its Aug. 16 meeting, the Selectboard voted 4-0 to form an ad hoc committee to address barking issues. But at the Wednesday, Sept. 8 meeting, the committee was effectively disbanded before it could be formed.
Board vice-chairman Darren Adams had the sole vote to accept the committee’s structure, as drafted by town manager Brian Palaia. Randy Barrows and Jeff Turner voted “no,” and board chairman Lou Mossey abstained. Todd Shepard was absent.
The defeating vote came after public commentary from residents Amy Haskell, Tina FitzGerald and George McRae who opposed changing the ordinance and from Ron Harding and neighbor Cheryl Eatinger, who want dog barking issues resolved in the Milton Falls Court neighborhood.
Haskell said the dog-barking issue is between neighbors Harding and Mike Barrett, who owns 16 dogs. She said people opposing an ordinance change have submitted petitions with 400-500 names.
(Editor’s note: The Milton Independent compared the names against the voter checklist, and our unofficial count was that more than 30 percent of the names were those of unregistered voters.)
“Why don’t you listen to the people who have done their homework, have talked to everybody and do not want this changed?” she asked.
Board chairman Lou Mossey said that despite the petitions, the town should have a working ordinance, “so when we send an officer out to investigate a complaint, there is some legitimacy in it, and we don’t waste our time and tax dollars going to court and having things thrown out,” he said.
FitzGerald agreed “110 percent” with Haskell, she said.
“Somebody tell this man [Ron Harding] to go away, because it’s only one, and he has yet to bring any petition forward,” she said.
Later in the meeting, resident Diane Tanner said no one should tell another person not to come voice his opinion, regardless of the petition.
“It’s only 500 names,” she said, adding she experienced continuous dog-barking for eight years in a different neighborhood.
Harding said his neighborhood isn’t the only one with these issues, mentioning a former Hunting Ridge resident who moved because of barking dogs. He said that while there are only a handful of problem dogs, affected residents need relief.
“If [dog owners] don’t want to get the ticket, then they should control their dogs,” he said. “It’s a simple thing.”
Board member Jeff Turner said those opposed to the ordinance have “gone above and beyond” by getting petitions and that he would not support the vote. This came after the board’s Aug. 16 meeting when Turner voted to form the committee.
Board vice-chairman Darren Adams questioned why Turner changed his mind.
Turner responded, “I can do whatever I want.”
Adams asked, “How is that leadership?”
Turner reiterated that people show up in numbers opposed to the ordinance change.
“Obviously you don’t like the fact that I’ve changed my opinion last week, and I don’t really give a rat’s ass, so it’s as simple as that,” Turner said. “I do what I want to do.”
Adams said, “It doesn’t make any sense,” and Turner responded, “No, it probably doesn’t make a lot of sense, but I really don’t care.”
Eatinger, Barrett’s neighbor, said she also lives next to a home with 11 dogs that bark at 5 and 6 a.m.
“How many of you live near people like that, that think dogs are more important than their neighbors and that nobody needs to sleep?” she asked. “That’s what this is about.”
Board member Randy Barrows said residents in that neighborhood have been asked to get a petition and “to this date, this hour, right now they have failed.”
Eatinger will get a petition going, she said.
Mediation report released
Also mentioned at the meeting was the October 2008 mediation in which the Barretts, Ron Harding, Amy Haskell and six others participated to address dog-barking.
The two-hour, 10-minute mediation, held at the Winooski Community Justice Center, ended after a conflict escalated, the report said.
It began when resident Sarah O’Sullivan suggested that as the Barretts’ dogs “decrease through time,” the Barretts do not get more dogs.
Mike Barrett said, “Don’t tell me how to live my life,” and then suggests that if O’Sullivan “did not open [the] window to smoke with [the] baby in the house, you would not hear the dogs.”
At this point, the report indicates O’Sullivan left the room, crying, to speak to Milton Police chief Brett Van Noordt. Harding then said the housing association would pursue a bylaw change to limit the number of dogs.
Barrett “rose from chair and in loud voice” said, “I am going to sue your ass!” The facilitators then ended the mediation.
The report also includes notes taken that represent both sides of the issue. For example, notes say, “Mike [Barrett] has exchanged harsh words with neighbors when confronted,” and, “Barking has not disturbed sleep for the past few weeks.”
In the report, Barrett said he takes in rescue dogs that would have been euthanized and “tend to be more vocal.”
The facilitator did not include parting recommendations to the mediation.