HARRISON – The Mayor’s Report at the July 20 meeting of the Harrison City Council began with a farewell homage to retiring treasurer Sharon Hawkins. Mayor Stacy Stocking said that he hadn’t brought along any notes, but would instead speak off the cuff.
“Sharon has been with us for 41 years,” Stocking said. “Forty-one years of dedication, commitment, treating the city as her own business.”
At that point, Hawkins interjected, “Always will!”
“Taking care of happy and disgruntled constituents – whether it’s your fault or not – in a more than professional manner,” Stocking continued. “Taking care of all the young people that have gone through the doors of this city hall; sometimes as a mother, sometimes as an ear to listen to a voice, too. You’ve gone through a hundred council members, a handful of mayors, a lot of bosses. And Sharon takes direction from all of us, in a perfect way.
“So, 41 years and you’re going to be retiring,” he said. “You’re not going to be leaving us, because we’re going to volunteer you for many more events upcoming. Sharon’s been a friend to many of us over the years. Sharon’s very strong with her evictions for the city, and coming from this current council and mayor and staff members: Thank you, we appreciate you, we love you, and we’re happy for you.”
At this point, Council member Connie Cauchi handed Hawkins a box of tissues, saying she could keep the whole box.
Stocking then asked all present to stand to honor Hawkins with a round of applause to recognize her job well-done, adding that Hawkins’ 41 years of service to the city had set a benchmark.
Later in the meeting, Council passed a proclamation honoring Hawkins for her dedicated service to the city. [See accompanying box.]
The mayor then moved on to the last item on his report, which was to inform that Dan Sullivan, mayor pro tem, would be taking over the mayor’s duties for four to six weeks, beginning with the Aug. 3 meeting. Stocking said he would be stepping out for heart surgery on that date, and asked that everyone “please be nice to Dan.”
“He will do a fine job, as he does in my absence all the time,” Stocking said.
The meeting then moved on to financial reports/bills, followed by some comments from visitors. Primary among them were Kevin and Theresa O’Dell, two Harrison residents whose residence had been one of those mentioned at the prior city council meeting as being in violation of the city’s “no chickens” rule. Kevin O’Dell spoke in detail of the city’s bylaws and drew solid, logical conclusions as to why the city’s rule is not supported by its own bylaws.
O’Dell began by saying he and his wife had gotten a lot from the community, having move here in 2010, and that they also had been very gracious in giving back to the community.
“I’m here because we have a small discrepancy over chickens,” he said. “I know you guys all know your job pretty well – I’m not here to tell you how to do it. But, I would like for a moment for a fair interpretation of what the bylaws actually mean.”
He explained that the citation he had received from the zoning enforcement officer had a portion highlighted, noting: “The owning or keeping of farm animals not in compliance with this or various other orders.” [which referred to 35001, section 1-8.
“So, it does not say that farm animals are not allowed,” O’Dell said. “It says there are guidelines that they need to follow.”
First, however, O’Dell defined exactly what a chicken is: a bird domesticated for more than 4,500 years (even as long as 12,000 years in China and Southeast Asia). He compared the modern chicken to its wild ancestor as akin to comparing a miniature poodle to a wolf, and said modern domesticated chickens will not be seen in the wild, nor do they cause harm or damage property.
O’Dell said that a 2017 study found 13.7 million chickens in Michigan (none of them wild) and added that the natural habitat of chickens is farms and backyards. He noted the City of Clare has restrictions, but does allow chickens.
He then directed Council to how chicken fit into the guidelines: From the top of 35001, section 1-A:
“Species: Any warm- or cold-blooded, carnivorous or omnivorous wild exotic animals, dangerous or undomesticated animals which are not of a species customarily used as household pets, but one that could be confined in a zoo or ordinarily be found in a wilderness of this country or any other country. One which would otherwise cause a reasonable person to be fearful of bodily harm or property damage.” O’Dell said the guideline goes on to say “Prohibited Species: Includes such animals as foxes, wild exotic cats, skunks, racoons and similar other wild, unless held in a shelter approved by the city council.”
“I do not see where chickens do fit into this,” he said. “I really do not – the fair interpretation of everything – I don’t see that.”
O’Dell had noted that he had chickens for eight years in the city (no roosters because he was cognizant or noise concerns) with no previous negative response from his neighbors, and after making his points, described the recent complainant as a person who has known of the chickens for years and had benefited from the eggs they produced, and as someone whose behavior is concerning to all his neighbors.
O’Dell also brought up the corollary between the current pandemic and the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, when he said it was citizens’ civic duty to uphold two egg-laying hens per person in each household, along with vegetable gardening.
The mayor clarified that the chickens in question are cooped, and not free-ranging. Among the commentary from council members was the suggestion by Angela Kellogg that she would like to hear from other towns of similar size regarding the positives and negatives of any policy/guidelines they may have put in place.
Stocking then explained that the city would need to confer with its attorney, asked that the zoning enforcement officer hold off on pursuing the complaints for the meantime, and that Council would have a response for the O’Dells at the Aug. 3 council meeting.