Fowl weather

Friday, October 22, 2010

First, let me say that I think Nelson Sparks deserves a lot of credit.

Mr. Sparks, if you don't already know, is a Cape Girardeau resident who raises chickens. He considers his hens to be pets. His pets lay nearly 10 dozen eggs a month.

But Cape Girardeau has a nuisance ordinance that prohibits keeping a long list of animals, chickens included.

After a notice -- saying the chickens violated the city's nuisance ordinance -- was posted on Mr. Sparks' front door, he faced a genuine quandary: He wanted to keep his chickens. He wanted to eat fresh eggs. He wanted to abide by the law.

It's important to know that when Mr. Sparks purchased his first chickens, in 2003, the city had no ban on chickens.

In an effort to keep his chickens and comply with the law, Mr. Sparks did what too few citizens have the gumption to do these days. He asked members of the city council to change the ordinance. Lo and behold, the council said the idea was worth considering. This week, by a 4-3 vote, the council adopted the first reading of the ordinance that would allow chickens. If that margin holds up on the final vote, chickens will be legal in Cape Girardeau, and Mr. Sparks will have successfully participated in a civics lesson that should be of interest to all of us.

But here's the deal. Even though I admire Mr. Sparks for his initiative to seek a remedy to his quandary, I don't think it's a good idea to allow chicken ranches in our City of Roses Where the River Turns a Thousand Tales.

First bingo. Then the lottery. Maybe a casino. And now chicken ranches.

I remember driving across northern Nevada in 1988 on a family vacation and being put on the spot by two curious sons who wondered why there were so many places with "Chicken Ranch" signs but no signs of chickens. Anywhere.

No one cruising the avenues of our fair city should ever be put in such an awkward situation.

Unless .

I must say that I am heavily influenced by my wife, who thinks an ordinance allowing chickens in Cape Girardeau is a ludicrous idea. She made a compelling argument. When she read the first story about the possible change in the law, she exclaimed: "Good grief!" After 45 years of marriage, I'm pretty sure that means she thinks raising chickens is great for farmers, not for city dwellers.

However, my wife and I are reasonable people. We are willing to make accommodations in exchange for something in return. That's called compromise.

For example, chickens might be OK if the city would, say, add squirrels to the list of nuisance animals. That would make me happy.

Or what about a city ordinance establishing a hunting season for deer in our fair city? That would make my wife happy.

I know the city council can't please everyone. But council members ought not to give in to a single chicken fancier without getting something for the hundreds of squirrel and deer haters.

Let's do a little horse trading.

Joe Sullivan is the former editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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