Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

April 10, 2013

Board passes first reading of proposed pit bull ban

By CHARLES OWENS
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — The Bluefield Board of Directors approved the first reading Tuesday of a proposed ordinance that would ban new pit bulls from the city limits. The ordinance was advanced despite objections from several citizens.

The first reading passed on a 3-0 vote with Mayor Linda Whalen and board member Dr. Tom Blevins absent. Blaine Braithwaite, executive director of the South Bluefield Neighborhood Association, challenged the motion, adding he had spoken with three different lawyers who advised him the board is required by state code to schedule a public hearing on the proposed ordinance following the passage of a first reading.

City Attorney Brian Cochran disagreed, adding that a public hearing wasn’t required because the proposed ordinance didn’t involve raising new revenue. But Braithwaite said the ordinance “wasn’t revenue neutral,” adding the city would incur an expense associated with banning and collecting pit bulls found in violation of the proposed ordinance. Cochran then responded that the proposal wasn’t a “revenue generating” ordinance.

Braithwaite said the government also faces potential liability when it comes to the seizure of property. By seizing pit bulls, he said the local city government would be putting itself in a similar position of liability. Braithwaite asked the board to table the pit bull ordnance until May.

“There must be due process,” Braithwaite said. “It is guaranteed in the Bill of Rights.”

Steven Coleman, a concerned citizen and candidate for the upcoming city elections, said the board members are unfairly targeting a specific animal breed.

“Zeroing in on a breed removes the focus from where it belongs — responsible animal owners,” Coleman said. “Breed is irrelevant. Outright bans are reactionary and emotional. Things like that have no place in society.”

Board member Pete Sternloff said it is important for citizens to remember that the proposed ordinance doesn’t become law until it is passed in a second reading. The board is currently scheduled to vote on a second reading of the ordinance at its April 23 meeting. That meeting begins at 6 p.m. at city hall.

“I want everyone to understand that this is a first reading,” Sternloff said. “A second reading will not occur until the next board meeting.”

The ordinance as proposed would amend existing city code, and give existing owners of pit bulls 10 days after its enactment to have their animals registered at the Bluefield Police Department. After that 10-day period, no new pit bulls would be permitted in the city limits.

An existing city ordinance — passed in 2008 — also requires pit bulls to be registered. It also states that pit bulls or wolf-hybrids that are registered with the city must be muzzled when outside their kennels. It also requires that the animals be confined to a locked kennel with a secure bottom, and floor and sides embedded no less than two feet deep. Owners must also display “beware of dog” signs on their property as well. However, the existing ordinance doesn’t ban the breed — as the revised ordinance proposes.

As of Tuesday, approximately 30 pit bull owners had registered their animals with the police department, according to City Manager Jim Ferguson.

— Contact Charles Owens at cowens@bdtonline.com