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Friday, Oct. 31, 2014

Government study: Teens in government would enact ordinances with bite

Sunday, March 9, 2003

(Photo)
Elizabeth Killion listens to a citizen in the debate of an amendment during a mock city council meeting.
SIKESTON - Sikeston teenagers learned about government while tackling some of the community's difficult issues.

A controversial amendment to the city's animal control ordinance addressing aggressive animals was passed 4-1 by the young people as they took on Sikeston city government roles Friday.

Mayor Phil Boyer said during his welcoming remarks that the proposed ordinance is "one of our bigger problems we have right now" for the real City Council.

Boyer said watching the students take on the real Council's hot issues each year for Youth in Government Day has been interesting. "They always come up with some good ideas," he said. This is the 17th year for the Sikeston Optimist Club-sponsored event.

Nearly 30 elected officials and staff members from the city and Board of Municipal Utilities paired up Friday with students to teach them about their jobs and city operations.

The highlight of the day's activities was, as usual, the mock City Council meeting which began at 11 a.m.

Mock-Mayor Elizabeth Killion opened the meeting by presenting City Manager Doug Friend with a Youth in Government Day proclamation.

After approving the minutes from previous meetings, the mock City Council then turned their attention to the proposed amendments to the city's animal ordinance.

Tiffany Smith, who was serving city counselor, first completed the bill's second reading.

Next, Ryan Gibson filling the role of city manager, explained for the mock council that the bill before them was a result of complaints about dog bites and called La'Mechia Armstrong, who took on the role of director of Public Works, to present further information.

Armstrong said the city's previous experience with licensing pets was ineffective. Mock City Clerk Casey Robison reported at Armstrong's request that the last year Sikeston tried licensing animals, only $200 was collected in fees.

Armstrong said the amendment - including the section that lists four breeds in particular - was written "because of what the people of Sikeston need."

Opening the floor to their public, the mock council first heard from "Otis Redding" (student Josh Wisdom), who identified himself as a police officer for the city. Redding recommended the amendment should require identification chips for all animals upon registering instead of only after an animal is involved in a biting incident.

"What we're wanting is to not have the bite happen in the first place," Redding said.

The chip will result in owners showing more responsibility as the chip will identify who the animal belongs to, Redding said.

He also said he was in favor of including the list of four aggressive dog breeds in the ordinance as they are the ones that cause him the most trouble. He suggested not allowing convicted felons or those convicted on drug charges to own the breeds. "The dog can be used as a weapon just like a gun or knife," Redding said.

Mayor Killion asked if his ideas would be difficult for police to enforce, but Redding said it would be the responsibility of code enforcement officers.

Responding to another question from Killion about the cost of the chip, Redding said if people want to have an animal, they will pay for the chip. As for those who can't afford it: "I'd like a Lexus, but I can't afford one," he quipped.

Next, resident Lynette Smith (Katie Jennings) said she is for the ordinance and also for reintroducing city licensing for pets so officials know whose animals are running loose and can hold them accountable.

She said a neighbor has a dog that is causing problems for her that is not one of the four listed breeds. "I'm afraid to let my four-year-old son out to play because the dog runs loose," she said.

Jim Diamond (E.C. Atchison), a mailman, said he is against the breed-specific section. He said on his mail route there is a street with many pit bulls. "None of them are ever aggressive to me," he said.

On another street on his route, however, is a terrier that gives him problems and even got off his chain one day. "It wasn't fun; I ran," he said. "It is certainly much more aggressive toward me."

Diamond said it is the way the owners raise the animal, not the breed, adding that he is "the proud owner of a pit bull" that plays with his 2-year-old son. "I've raised the pit bull to be very passive."

He recommended harsher penalties for owners of vicious animals. "They should crack down on the owners, not the breeds," he said.

Following the comments, mock Councilman Peter Jones entered a motion to pass the bill as presented. The motion was seconded by mock Councilman Darius White.

Council member Sue Rogers, who was participating in her first Youth in Government day, said it was just like her for her counterpart, Kyle Casey, to enter the only dissenting vote. "I have to find out why he said no," she said, adding she believes it important "to look at everything from all points of view."

Following the meeting, students next met at the Clinton building to wrap up the day's events with a luncheon, the presentation of participation certificates and words from guest speaker State Rep. Peter Myers.

Both students and officials alike said they enjoyed the experience.

"It was fun - I learned a lot about the history of Sikeston, I learned what the city clerk does," said Robison. "He's got a lot more to do that I thought."

"It was a lot of fun - really interesting," agreed Killion.

"It's been a wonderful day," Rogers said. "It is so important that the young people start getting involved in government because they are the future."

Financial sponsors this year were Tetra Pak, Union Planters Bank and Cargill.