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Council approves new ‘no-kill’ resolution

Friday, November 6, 2009 by Jacob Cottingham

Council members unanimously approved a resolution Thursday directing the City Manager to work with the Animal Advisory Commission toward developing a plan to dramatically lower the number of animals euthanized at the city’s shelters.


The resolution, sponsored by Council Member Laura Morrison, directs staff to implement the recommendations of the Animal Advisory Commission (AAC). Some staff members and animal activists have been at odds over the issue, and this is designed to bridge that gap.


Morrison said it was “obviously clear that everyone here agrees with the imperative of animal welfare and our goal of becoming a no kill city,” while acknowledging that had been a goal for many years.  She recognized the efforts of the community, saying over 600 emails had come and noting “this is definitely a community that knows how to organize.”


In statements to the Council, Ryan Clinton, founder of animal advocacy group FixAustin, thanked them for their efforts and said, “The community has spoken loudly and clearly on this specific issue and these specific resolutions.”


Clinton said there had been some concern as to whether the Council had the authority to implement the plan devised by the AAC, which would ultimately turn Austin into a “no kill” city in regard to animal euthanasia. Clinton, an attorney, said his inspection of the City Charter showed that the Council has that authority. As it turned out, legal authority became an issue.


Larry Tucker, chairman of the AAC told council passing the resolution would be a “great day for the animal lover community,” and echoed earlier praise from several speakers for Morrison. The AAC is made up of representatives from the Austin Humane society, EmanciPet, Animal Trustees of Austin, Town Lake Animal Center and other organizations.


Council Member Bill Spelman asked Tucker, “the meaning of ‘work with,’” in the resolution. Tucker said it meant the sides would “join and listen to each other and debate, and listen to other community partners.”


Spelman wanted to know about the role of the commission in the “nuts and bolts” of putting the recommendations into practice. Tucker said the AAC had plenty of detailed information on their recommendations and had been speaking with community members for some time. Tucker said the actual plan should be a “joint effort” between the commission and staff. 


Morrison said integral to the plans were that the “city partner with the community,” and clarified that the resolution did not guarantee implementation of the resolutions, only that a plan be developed to that end. In March, she said Council would take a look at the plan.


City Manager Marc Ott interjected that “this direction is a bit confusing,” and said the city attorney’s office had “expressed some concern… this may blur the lines” between policymaking responsibilities of Council and the administrative responsibilities of staff.


He said there was some ambiguity how the city would adopt a document drawn up in part by a citizen commission. Spelman pointed out that he had been part of a citizen commission and had personally drafted two-thirds of a document that later was adopted by Council. He acknowledged that there was a fine line between policy and management but that “city staff does have the discretion to blur that line if it’s going to be in the best interests of the city.”


A discussion of the city charter ensued between Council members and legal staff, eventually provoking Mayor Pro Tem Mike Martinez to say, “If the charter doesn’t allow us to direct the city manager to sit down and work with people then we have a serious problem with the charter. This is no different than anything else we adopt.”


Council Member Randi Shade added a friendly amendment that any implementation plan include a fiscal analysis, which Morrison accepted, saying she was under the impression such an analysis was implicit. Council voted unanimously to move forward with the plan.


Clinton told In Fact Daily he was “very pleased; it’s a very important first step. This is not going to get us all the way but we appreciate Council’s leadership.”

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