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McCarthy Backs Down from Challenge to Animal Law as Legal Questions Raised on Cecil County Council Amendment Powers

January 18, 2014
By Nancy Schwerzler

A tempest over Cecil County’s animal control ordinance, and an attempt by Councilor Alan McCarthy (R-1) to change two provisions as an amendment to legislation proposed by the county executive, has highlighted a test of legal powers between the two branches of county government.

But under pressure from the county administration, McCarthy said Friday that he was prepared to back down from his challenge and not go forward next week with two amendments that would have eliminated the “hobby kennels” provision of the animal code and ended a provision that penalizes people who “harbor”—or feed—a stray animal for three or more days.

Apart from issues involving the county’s controversial animal ordinance, the dispute highlights limitations on the Council’s powers under Charter and the still evolving role of the Council in the county’s decision-making process. And despite McCarthy’s initial willingness to use the amendment process to seek a policy change, the balance of power appears to be tilting toward the county executive.

County Executive Tari Moore proposed legislation in early December to give herself the power to change animal licensing fees and the regulatory forms used by applicants for various licenses under the animal law, such as commercial kennels, boarding kennels, and a controversial “hobby kennel” provision affecting people with as few as ten pets.

At first, several Council members were upset with Moore’s proposal to reserve to herself the power to set fees unilaterally, without the Council having a say.

Then Moore agreed to an amendment that would specify that any changes in animal fees she might propose would have to go to the Council for members’ approval. But her bill still reserved to the executive the power to make other non-fee changes regarding kennels.

Moore’s legislative proposal, cast as a revision of the animal ordinance itself, opened up the possibility to amend her bill to include other changes to the animal law. McCarthy, who is a veterinarian and has long been critical of the animal law that was adopted before he joined the Council, took the opportunity of the panel’s review of the legislation at a Tuesday worksession to do just that.

He proposed two areas of revision but included several line-by-line references to the animal law itself in which the phrases “hobby kennel” and “harbor” were used in the ordinance.

McCarthy said a provision of the animal law tries to penalize a person who might show “compassion” by putting out food for a stray cat or dog in the neighborhood, especially in bad weather. The law states that “the act of feeding or sheltering an animal for three or more consecutive days or parts of days” amounts to “harboring” an animal, and makes the person who does so legally responsible for the animal, including licensing and vaccination requirements. In addition, a ‘harbored’ animal could then not be considered a stray that the county’s animal control contractor would be required to pick up and shelter.

He also proposed deleting the “hobby kennel” provisions, which the ordinance defines as someone who “owns or houses no less than 10 and no more than 20” dogs, and which the law limits to two litters of puppies a year that can be sold. (His proposal did not make any changes to the “commercial kennel” section of the law, which applies to sales of three or more litters a year.) The hobby kennel provisions have been opposed by many members of sporting and hunting groups, who have questioned to propriety of having to open their homes to inspections, fees, and mandated “exercise” plans.

In late October, Moore unilaterally imposed a delay on enforcement of all the kennel licensing regulations, until the Animal Care and Control Oversight Commission (ACCO) could propose changes. At that time, the executive said proposed changes would be presented to the County Council for their legislative review. [SEE Cecil Times report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2013/10/cecil-coungty-exec-delays-new-kennel-license-regs-animal-control-oversight-panel-questions-buddies-dog-housing-at-shelter/ ]

But instead, in early December Moore presented a bill giving her the authority to change the licensing rules and forms used to apply for licenses. (Moore’s bill came as a “surprise” to Lyn Yelton, chair of the ACCO, who told Cecil Times the panel was not advised of it in advance. That panel has been working on several revisions to “appendices” to the ordinance, she said.)

Councilor Diana Broomell (R-4), a frequent critic of Moore, did not dispute the executive’s request for expanded authority and turned her ire at McCarthy, saying his proposed amendments were an attempt to “sneak it through” and “I don’t think it’s proper.”

Councilor Michael Dunn (R-3) spoke up to accuse McCarthy of trying to “railroad” changes by offering amendments to Moore’s legislation.

McCarthy had not given Councilors an advance copy of his amendments but distributed copies at the worksession.

Council President Robert Hodge (R-5)—who had originally scheduled an afternoon “workshop” meeting of the Council “if needed” on the animal control issue– challenged the number of McCarthy’s amendments, saying he thought there were too many.

“How can you deny me the right to offer amendments,” McCarthy declared. But he then said he would simplify his proposals to the two core issues: deleting all references to “hobby kennels” and “harboring” of animals in the animal law.

“That’s a major change,” Broomell said, and “should not be permitted.”

Hodge and Broomell said they thought McCarthy’s amendments should be put out to a public hearing, although the underlying Moore bill had already been put out to a public hearing a week ago.

After much back and forth, the Council eventually voted, 3-2, to allow McCarthy to offer his two amendments at its upcoming legislative session Tuesday evening 2/21/14. Broomell and Dunn voted no, while McCarthy, Hodge and Councilor Joyce Bowlsbey (R-2) voted yes.

But Hodge qualified his support by saying he would seek a legal opinion from the county attorney about the propriety of McCarthy’s amendments and whether a separate public hearing would be required.

In an interview with Cecil Times, Jason Allison, the county attorney who also serves as the legal adviser to the County Council, said he could not disclose the specific advice he provided to his clients on the issue. But, speaking in general terms, he cited a provision of the charter that deals with Council amendments to legislation.

Section 304 provides that “in the event a bill is amended before enactment, and the amendment or amendments constitute a change of substance, the bill, as amended shall not be enacted into law until the bill meets the public hearing notice and publications requirements of a newly introduced bill.”

The Charter does not specify who decides what constitutes “a change of substance.” Nor does the charter state that Councilors may only offer minor or non-substantive amendments.

The Charter also specifies that if the Council does not act on a bill within 65 days after its introduction, the bill dies. Moore’s bill is set to reach its expiration date by 2/6/14. Allison said that he believed that if a bill is amended, but not yet enacted, the clock would start ticking all over again from the date the amendments were added.

In an interview with Cecil Times, McCarthy said he was not trying to obstruct the county executive and that he had been told she was operating under a “deadline” to get her proposal approved. (When she delayed enforcement of the kennel rules, Moore had said she wanted to begin enforcing them in May, 2014.)

So the Councilor said he planned to withdraw his proposed amendments from the Moore bill but would seek a broad overhaul of the animal ordinance in the future. “That law is just insanity,” he said.

McCarthy’s proposed amendments mark only the second time since Charter government began a year ago that the Council has challenged the County Executive on a substantive issue. The first challenge was on her proposal for significant increases in sewer hook-up fees, which the Council scaled back significantly. The Council also imposed a several month delay in implementation to allow some developers to obtain services at the older, lower rate.

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8 Responses to McCarthy Backs Down from Challenge to Animal Law as Legal Questions Raised on Cecil County Council Amendment Powers

  1. Joe C on January 18, 2014 at 10:53 pm

    I would like to see how many sewer hookups were paid for at the lower rate and who requested them, should be very interesting! Glad to see some independent thought by Alan McCarthy, to bad he back down to the Tsar of Cecil.

  2. Sandy W on January 19, 2014 at 10:56 am

    Oh great, just when we thought we had elected a council person that had backbone, another one hits the dust… This animal control ordinance has cost the county so much time and angst that even if they need another public hearing to get rid of that trash, then hold the public hearing. It’s not like this hasn’t been going on since 2010. What’s another few months! Let the truth be told of all those backroom deals regarding animal control by the Three Amigos. County government, tell us how much this ordinance has cost us taxpayers besides the $2.2 million contract.

    This country is becoming another dictatorship and so is this county. Unfortunately Dr. McCarthy was right on target with his amendments, but backing down from them is unacceptable. We demand that you get these amendments passed with or without a public hearing. What is going on in animal control is no longer a joke. Hodge needs to stop hiding on this; after all, he’s the one responsible for letting the ordinance writing go on for years and years and letting Carletti re-write the work that the task force had done. Get some [guts] Robert and join Alan in trying to clean this ordinance up and remove the unnessary harrassment sections.

  3. Politics for Dummies on January 19, 2014 at 8:03 pm

    Animal Control is nothing more than an overpaid Pit Bull Rescue being funded by Cecil County taxpayers. And, the 3 day rule has been used very unethically by the Buddy for Life contractor. If they successfully hold someone off for 3 days, they are not obligated to help and will inform the caregiver that they now own said stray because they cared for it for more than 72 hours.

    This is what happens when people are ( or a person is) given too much authority and power or a title goes to their head. I hope voters remember the misuses of power and the platform some of our candidates used to deceitfully promote their own agendas.

    Cecil County is a joke and an embarrassment. It is time to elect individuals who can work together maturely and do their jobs. Councilor McCarthy is dead on in his statement that the animal ordinance “law is just insanity” and I hope he pursues a broad overhaul of same sooner rather than later.

  4. Mike Reed on January 20, 2014 at 12:36 pm

    Now is not the time to back away from resolving this animal control issue which has been an extremely expensive process for the taxpayers. The hours and hours spent by volunteers, commissioners, county administrator, budget manager, planning and zonimg director, all attending lots of meetings that went nowhere. Since the county council is so concerned about transparency, where has the transparency been in this debacle?

    This has been going on since 2009 and the care and control of these animals is worse than ever. The biggest problem which needs to be addressed is being overlooked and animals are dying in an inhumane fashion from the cold, starvation and from other prey.

    This ordinance is certainly as Dr. McCarthy put it “insanity”. Someone should be made accountable for all the backdoor deals that were made with the Buddy’s for Life. Besides the old Three Amigos county commissioners getting their jollies by screwing the SPCA, what has all this accomplished? Not a damn thing except costing us taxpayers more money.

    Please, Councilor McCarthy, don’t back down. This needs to be fixed and there is a very viable alternative. Mr. Hodge, step up to the plate and join McCarthy and Mrs. Bowlsbey and resolve this issue to the benefit of the taxpayers. We are fed up with these games you all are playing.

  5. Politics for Dummies on January 20, 2014 at 9:41 pm

    I will reiterate and ask nicely, PLEASE Mr. Hodge, join Councilor McCarthy and Mrs. Bowlsbey and end the debacle put in place by the 3 Stooges.

    Also, what happened to the Buddy group finding their own facility? It’s time to send those deficient, inept Delawareans back to their own State and let them run their rescue there (oops, Safe Haven tried that and failed in a similar fashion). Cecil County no longer has animal control and the proof is all around us. I’m thinking the first fine they try to enforce regarding kennel sizes, exercise, etc could easily be thrown out in Court given the Buddys continued track record of not being in compliance to their own rules (written by their arrogant leader).

  6. Diana Broomell on January 23, 2014 at 5:28 pm

    I did speak in opposition to County Executive Moore’s request for expanded authority.

    • RED 833 on January 24, 2014 at 8:45 am

      You always speak in opposition to expanded authority for everyone but yourself. You should read the charter.

    • Michael W. Dawson on January 24, 2014 at 12:15 pm

      Ms. Broomell: you really ought to work on those critical reading skills. The reporter was citing legislative challenges of the council (e.g. amendments to those requests of the County Executive), not your baseless accusations of corruption around every corner and vitriolic insults hurled at the the county executive and her staff.

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