After failing to pass the vote at its previous meeting, the Selectboard voted to accept the charge of an ad hoc committee to address dog-barking issues at its Sept. 20 meeting.
Todd Shepard, who was absent at the Sept. 8 meeting when the charge was first presented, made the motion to form the committee. Lou Mossey, who abstained from the previous vote, seconded the motion.
Mossey and Darren Adams voted “aye,” and Randy Barrows voted,“no.” Jeff Turner was absent.
The vote came after a back-and-forth dialogue between Barrows and Shepard, who said the current ordinance, which allows for an hour of continuous barking, is not “common sense.”
“I would not let my dog bark long enough to disturb my neighbors,” Shepard said. “I’m sorry, that ordinance is simply allowing the potential for a cruelty situation to be happening if nothing else, let alone a disturbance issue.”
Shepard said he’s heard from people who won’t speak up at public meetings for fear they’ll be ridiculed or labeled as “naysayers.”
“Absent a recommendation from this ad hoc committee, … I’m going to be uncomfortable in making any kind of a decision until I hear a different view from those who are typically or regularly presenting or proposing the issue,” Shepard said.
Shepard also discussed petitions, a topic often invoked by Barrows and Turner as a way to determine if the ordinance should be changed.
“I’m not against petitions by any means,” Shepard said. “I congratulate everybody who uses the democratic process. It certainly helps us move forward, but when they don’t have a lot of meaning, I’m a little wary of them.”
During discussion of the motion, Barrows brought up the latest petition that included 400 to 500 signatures. Last week’s Independent noted that an unofficial count determined that more than 30 percent of these names were unregistered voters.
Barrows said he’s told “the opposition” to get a petition, the “proper protocol to bring this situation to a head.”
“If I vote and say, ‘Yeah, let’s look at this,’ I’m thumbing my nose at the 400 or 500 people that have gone and signed a petition asking this board not to do anything with it,” Barrows said.
Shepard reiterated that people are afraid to come to the Selectboard meetings.
“We’re here to represent our community,” he said. “[Forming a committee] is not making a change to our ordinance. It is simply to review the issue.”
Shepard then said that the board has heard from the police that the current ordinance is unenforceable.
“Why are we discounting our own staff?” Shepard asked Barrows. “You’re an animal control officer. Can you write violations under our current ordinance?”
Barrows said he wrote $1,700 worth of tickets to a former McMullen Road resident. The case went to court and defaulted against her, but she left town without paying.
“I wasted my time, and I don’t know if writing a new ordinance would change that,” Barrows said. “Our court systems fail us more than what we fail locally.”
Barrows again brought up the petition, saying he “goes by the numbers.”
“If it was three for and three against [an ordinance change], it would be kind of easy for me to make a decision,” he said, adding that the issue is solely between neighbors Ron Harding and Mike Barrett, who owns 16 dogs on Milton Falls Court.
Shepard disagreed, saying that police and former animal control officer Sherry Dubuque have said the ordinance isn’t effective with time limitations.
“Maybe the ultimate question is: should we just repeal that section of the dog ordinance? Because it’s not working anyway,” Shepard said. “If it’s not usable, why not change it? It seems easy to me.”
Barrows and Shepard then discussed if forming the dog-barking committee sets a precedent for neighbors who aren’t getting along.
Barrows said, “I just don’t want to get into the business of creating ordinances for every little issue. We’ve got a lot more important stuff to handle here in town.”
Shepard said the board has already seen neighbors come to the board, like with the ATV noise issue on Hemlock Road. Neighbors don’t always get along, he said.
The motion passed 4-0 to form a six-member ad hoc committee to examine the effectiveness of the town’s dog ordinance.
The town manager’s office is now accepting applications for the committee. Up to three people can solely represent community members, up to two members can represent dog-related businesses and one member must represent law enforcement or animal control.
The committee will elect a chair, vice-chair and secretary to take minutes at the open meetings. It will conduct research on dog nuisance-related issues, including a review of Milton’s former dog-barking ordinances and those of other communities.
After the committee is officially organized, it will have 60 calendar days to issue a recommendation to adopt a new ordinance or maintain the status quo.
Residents can download the application and read the committee charge on the town website at www.milton.govoffice2.com under the “Boards and Commissions” section.