Citizen Jerry Rice complained at the beginning of the meeting about the commissioners’ lack of transparency. At their last meeting, a split vote had required a second reading of the ordinance at the next scheduled meeting, but the next meeting was to be a workshop on the county’s capital investment plan. The public was left believing the commissioners would follow a suggestion from County Attorney Robert Deutsch to place the second reading on the agenda, and then vote to consider it at a future date. Instead, somewhere along the way, the workshop to be held on the first floor turned into a full-fledged formal meeting. Rice indicated the changes were only advertised to people who compulsively reread the posted agenda. As scheduled, the meeting started at 8:30 a.m.
The Republicans on the board began with an organized effort to amend the ordinance somewhat. Mike Fryar asked that only persons living within 1000 feet of a neglected animal’s home be allowed to register a complaint. He justified this saying similar distance restrictions are incorporated in laws protecting junk yards and porn shops. People are not allowed to complain about gunshots unless they live within 300 feet of the discharge, he said. Fryar also requested that sheriff’s deputies not be dispatched to investigate claims of animal abuse instigate by special interest groups.
Newman said he “strongly disagreed” with the suggestion. People have First Amendment rights. The intention of the ordinance was to help neglected animals, and when an animal is suffering, it isn’t going to be finicky about who initiates its rescue. The neighbor criterion was non sequitur. Frost stretched the issue to fault Fryar with comparing animals to junk in a yard and porno in a store. This was the first of several votes on the matter that would all end with Fryar, Miranda DeBruhl, and Joe Belcher on the losing end.
Next, DeBruhl asked that dimensional requirements for stabling horses be eliminated . The ordinance read, and still does, “Structures must provide a minimum of 100 square feet of enclosed space per animal. A three-sided shelter or open-front shed size should be 240 sq. ft. for 2 horses (i.e., 12 ft. x 20 ft.) and 60 sq. ft. (i.e., an additional 10 ft. x 6 ft.) for each additional horse.” She noted horses come in varying sizes and said the stipulation that each animal be able to “comfortably stand up, lie down, and turn around simultaneously” should suffice.
Fryar backed the proposal. He said some horses like the cold. He and Belcher argued, as did former commission candidate Christina Merrill during public comment, that the ordinance could force people who can’t afford to comply to give up their beloved horses. Merrill asked what the county planned to do with all the horses it would be confiscating, and if it had sufficient capital outlay to house the forfeitures in accordance with the ordinance.
DeBruhl added the ordinance as it stood could turn away people who are moving to Buncombe County because of Tryon’s new, world-class equestrian center. It was all in vain, so DeBruhl tendered an alternative amendment, to grandfather-in existing noncompliant stables. It met the same fate with little discussion.
Belcher than asked if the commissioners would mind removing the subjective requirements that animals enjoy “adequate social interaction and exercise.” He suggested as alternative language requiring that animals show “no obvious signs of distress.” Holly Jones said neglected animals don’t always show “obvious signs of distress.” Whereas the Republicans’ constituents were begging them to weaken requirements, Frost said the overwhelming number of emails she received begged for even tighter controls.
The adopted amendment fell short of ChainFree Asheville’s request that the county outlaw tethering of animals altogether. Instead, it extended the minimum length of tethers from 10 to 15 ft. Fryar asked why the commissioners were stopping at horses and dogs. Cows in the county stay out in the field all winter and walk in feces, he said. He summarized, “This is not our realm of what we’re supposed to be doing. We’re not supposed to be making law upon law.”
In Another Matter –
Trena Parker sounded exasperated. She came before the commissioners to request funding for new voting machines. She had intended to make the upgrade next fiscal year, but a new law changing the date of the presidential primary has added a sense of urgency. What is now General Statute 163-213.2 separates the presidential primary from the other primaries if South Carolina’s presidential primary is before March 15. The State Board of Elections has issued instructions to the county boards to prepare for either a February 16 or March 1 presidential primary this year.
The resulting “ridiculous, unprecedented schedule” will have people at the board of elections preparing for elections almost monthly. Making things more difficult are recent election reforms. In particular, Parker expected compressed early voting dates would result in long lines translating to late hours for elections staff. The lines would be even longer since straight-ticket voting had been eliminated. On the bright side, having the new machines would help reduce the probability of taking machines offline for service on election days.
Parker said only one vendor is certified to provide the kind of machines the legislature requires. Frost asked why only one vendor was certified, and Parker only said the standards were so high and specific, only one qualified. Parker described the machines the county has been using as “temperamental” and “at the end of their life cycle.” Since some counties are holding off on the upgrade hoping the legislation will be repealed, if the county acts fast, there is a chance it will find a buyer for its machines. Jones suggested selling them to Nicaragua. The cost of the new machines, without any trade-in deductions, would be about $1.5 million.