Council Ensnared in Extended Debate





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In spite of a collective effort on the part of city officials to cooperate with each other on the passage of a spay-neuter ordinance, four hours of debate on the wordy measure Tuesday night left council members and animal activists wondering exactly what had been accomplished.

At their meeting earlier this week, Berkeley City Council members lauded a proposed spay-neuter ordinance as a model of collaboration between members of often-polarized factions. But after a period of public comment marked by audience eruptions, council members bogged down the debate by interjecting their opinions on procedural matters distantly related to the heart of the actual spay-neuter ordinance - the most controversial aspect of the measure.

At one point, Mayor Shirley Dean lashed out at the council for breaking the proposal down into its component parts and for reducing it to a measure containing no definitive answers to difficult questions.

"We have sorely missed the point," Dean said. "The point is reform - a new way of doing business. People tried for the first time to talk to one another across the table on this issue. To pick and choose here, to only pass those things that don't make a difference - what are we going to do tomorrow to save the life of one animal?"

Dean also expressed anger over the financial questions many council members said prevented them from taking a stand on the ordinance.

"You're right we're going to spend more money on this shelter, because we should spend more money on this shelter," she said. "That's the point this council hasn't got, and I am ashamed."

Councilmember Dona Spring, who, with Dean, headed the task force that drafted the ordinance, said she was frustrated with the council's questions about the measure's administration.

"This is a big to-do about something that is not that big of a deal," Spring said. "It's not mandatory, it's not punitive, it all fits together as a package."

But hesitant council members, including Polly Armstrong, refused to bring the spay-neuter ordinance to a vote until their questions regarding financing and enforcement were answered. Armstrong was particularly concerned by a provision that stipulates people who give puppies away must register the adoptive family's address.

"I just think this is way out of control," Armstrong said. "I sure don't want people haunting people who gave away a puppy to see if they wrote down the right address."

Council members further delayed a comprehensive voting measure when they insisted that its 25th component, which would install Spring as the council liaison to the Citizens Humane Commission, be voted on separately. When Woolley said the liaison position was not stipulated under city law, Dean said city laws supported the creation of the position.

"It is interesting what you discover in the Berkeley Municipal Code when you finally read it," she said, drawing laughter from exhausted audience members.

On several occasions, Councilmember Betty Olds chided the council for passing the less controversial aspects of the measure and for its reluctance to tackle the greater issue.

"If we pass these, we are saying ‘let's feel good, let's change the name (of the shelter) and it will all be better,'" Olds said.

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