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Council deadlocks on limiting chickens

031018FoundersGala

The Honorable Bettie J. Parker receives the Chancellor's Legacy Award during the Founders Day Scholarship Gala XI at K. E. White Center, Saturday, hosted by the Elizabeth City State University Foundation.

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Elizabeth City Mayor Bettie Parker declined to break a deadlocked council vote Monday night on limiting the number of chickens a city resident can raise.

In a 4-4 vote, councilors failed to pass an ordinance limiting residents to no more than eight chickens on a single piece of property. The ordinance’s failure means city residents may continue to raise an unlimited number of chickens and other types of poultry, so long as the animals are properly confined and sanitary requirements are followed.

Voting in favor of the new ordinance were Councilors Jeannie Young, Kem Spence, Rickey King and Billy Caudle. Voting in opposition were Councilors Gabriel Adkins, Darius Horton, Anita Hummer and Johnnie Walton.

Parker could have broken the tie vote, but chose not to. She told councilors that if they want action on chickens, they should continue talking to each other to reach a consensus.

Though Parker’s predecessors as mayor often broke ties, Elizabeth City’s mayors are not required to do so, according to both City Attorney Bill Morgan and a University of North Carolina School of Government professor.

Council has been debating the chicken-raising issue since July, when city resident Sharon Wilson complained about chickens owned by her neighbors, Ed and Sheri Power. Wilson said the Powers raise chickens too close to her property line, and allow chicken waste to accumulate and cause a severe odor that reaches her property.

The Powers denied Wilson’s claims, and said they’ve complied with city officials’ requests to correct noise or sanitary issues at their property.

The neighbors’ dispute over chickens was front and center again on Monday, when Wilson pleaded for council’s help, claiming the Powers have “bullied” her for seeking city action against their chickens.

“My life has been nothing short of a living hell since the chickens were brought to their property,” Wilson said, adding she had been harassed on social media about her complaints.

Wilson also thanked Walton for visiting her property this summer to witness conditions first-hand, adding that he was the only councilor to do so. She also urged council to restrict the stockpiling of manure near adjacent property lines.

Wilson also alleged that City Manager Rich Olson was friends with the Powers, and had tried to protect them during council’s deliberations about chickens.

In a followup interview, Olson said the Powers attend his church, but he has no relationship with them.

In brief remarks to council Monday night, Sheri Power framed Wilson as the bully, citing a “failed court case” that she brought against the Powers. She also thanked councilors for not banning chickens.

After debating chickens repeatedly since July, councilors had no further comments on them at Monday’s meeting.

Young and Spence have argued restricting the number of chickens is fair, but banning them is not; Hummer and Walton have sought to ban them outright. Walton has also argued that regulating the number of chickens residents can raise would be burdensome for the city’s code enforcement officers to enforce.

Horton opposed any new ordinance last month, calling instead for council to move on from its chicken debate.

Following Monday’s meeting, Olson said council’s tie vote does not block further consideration of poultry regulations; council may continue to bring up the issue, if it desires to. The city will continue to enforce existing regulations on sanitation for poultry, he said.

The sanitation code for poultry, available online at cityofec.com, states “there shall not be more than two days’ dung, waste or litter in any cage, pen, building or running and grazing area,” and such areas shall be “thoroughly cleaned” of other refuse at least every four days.

It also states “sufficient disinfectant, insecticide and deodorant shall be applied every day or as needed in order to prevent the accumulation of insects and the creation of odors.”

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