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WV: Berkeley County Tethering ordinance passed
Tethering ordinance passes after debate
By Jenni Vincent, Journal staff writer
POSTED: June 25, 2010
MARTINSBURG - Berkeley County now has a dog tethering ordinance, but it became a reality only after some tense moments at Thursday's County Commission meeting when officials debated its merit and whether or not it could be enforced upon passage.
Although Commissioner Tony Petrucci formerly had some doubts about enacting this type of new law, he said he'd been satisfied with some of the changes proposed by county attorney Norwood Bentley.
He also acknowledged a local ordinance is probably necessary because tethering language contained in the state code is not adequate.
However, he maintained that Sheriff Kenneth "Kenny" Lemaster also needed to be supportive of the measure before he'd vote for it.
After being told Lemaster had not seen the latest draft of the ordinance, Petrucci said he would not vote for it.
"I just cannot vote for it when the sheriff is pretty much in the blind," he said.
At one point before the vote, which pitted him against fellow Commissioners Ron Collins and Bill Stubblefield, Petrucci successfully requested a 10-minute recess so that Lemaster could be contacted and asked to be present for the tethering discussion. The sheriff arrived shortly afterward.
During the discussion, Bentley said he'd spoken with Lemaster about one draft of the ordinance but not the one being considered Thursday.
Bentley said Lemaster told him previously that he couldn't be at Thursday's meeting and that he'd "requested we delay passing that part until we have a chance to talk to him ... I made him no promises you wouldn't pass it today."
Stubblefield, who first brought the issue to commissioners' attention earlier this year, said he initiated this action because county animal control officers were frustrated with the abuse cases they were seeing.
"Plus they had no real authority to take action. The state code is broad and open to interpretation," Stubblefield said, stressing that Lemaster and another representative from his department had attended that initial meeting.
"I came away from that meeting last summer feeling there were no objections - that everyone was on board with the idea that we had to do something," he said.
This type of ordinance, complete with guidelines for enforcement, would help animal control officers do their job, Stubblefield said.
"They don't see this as making their jobs more difficult, but as a vehicle to work with," he said.
He said commissioners also have a responsibility to represent citizens who've been waiting for this type of regulation to be passed, especially since those sentiments were "overwhelmingly expressed" at a public hearing held on the proposed ordinance.
It's necessary to have "some specifics" regarding tether weights and lengths in the ordinance or else the regulation is of no value, Stubblefield added.
There hasn't been any attempt to keep Lemaster "in the dark," Stubblefield said, adding that he now believes it may not be possible to satisfy him.
"We're not proposing passing something more rigorous than what you've seen. ... But I'm not sure we'll ever have something you'll say is what you want," said Stubblefield, again adding he will not approve any additional weakening of the ordinance.
"I'm not going to do that, but I am going to have a tethering law," he said. "I may be a voice of one but I'm prepared to pass an ordinance."
Lemaster said commissioners have consistently failed to contact him about proposed ordinances, regulations that his deputies and officers will have to enforce dealing with noise and all-terrain vehicles.
He said the specifications contained in the tethering ordinance - with regard to permissible tether lengths and weights, as well as allowable time of restraint - would make it difficult to enforce. The tethering issue also already is addressed in state code dealing with animal cruelty, he said.
"The officers have been doing their job. They found the abuse or you wouldn't have been made aware of it," Lemaster said.
Calling it an "unfunded mandate," Lemaster said, "I barely have the people to keep up with the calls I have now."
Animal control officers currently do as much as possible and may not be able to keep up with an increased workload, he said.
"We don't even take care of their basic needs as it is," Lemaster said, noting that the animal control office is small and has only one portable air conditioner.
During one exchange, Bentley told Lemaster the commissioners represented the executive branch of government and weren't required to check with him before passing an ordinance.
"It's this body's obligation to pass legislation it thinks the county needs and your obligation to enforce it," Bentley said.
Lemaster, who said he doesn't have time to do his own legal research full time, questioned whether Bentley also is working on his behalf or whether this represents a potential conflict of interest.
Since the new regulation it is loosely based on a similar ordinance now being used in Kanawha County, Lemaster said he'll seek information on the experiences there.
"You've made up your mind and I can't change that. ... But you can rest assured I will be calling the sheriff of Kanawha County when I leave here," he said.
As passed by a vote of 2 to 1, the tethering ordinance requires a tether must be "at least four times the body length of the dog or a minimum of 10 feet long and weigh no more than one-eighth of the dog's weight." It must be free of tangles and allow the dog "easy access" to food, water, shelter and shade.
It also states that a dog's restraint should be as brief as possible and "in no case, may the restraint time exceed 12 hours in any 24-hour period."
Tethering ordinance passes after debate - journal-news.net | News, sports, jobs, community information for Martinsburg - The Journal
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