Opponents hope referendum signatures come in time to suspend ordinance before first Cape deer hunt

Friday, July 27, 2012

When Cape Girardeau residents vote in the rapidly approaching primary next month, how they cast their ballot will go a long way toward deciding which candidates in various hotly contested races will make the cut.

But whether those voters sign a petition that will likely be put to them at their polling place that day will also help decide whether the fiercely debated urban deer hunting issue will bring them back to the ballot box in the coming months to ultimately decide its fate.

A group associated with the Cape Friends of Wildlife says its members intend to flock to the polls Aug. 7 in an effort to gather most of the 2,466 signatures required to initiate the city's first-ever referendum to repeal the deer hunting ordinance that was narrowly approved by city leaders earlier this month.

Keep Cape Safe was formed specifically to deal with the referendum, said Cape Friends of Wildlife leader Stephen Stigers. While the original group will remain in place to address other wildlife issues, he said, the Keep Cape Safe group is charged with getting the referendum on the ballot and bringing attention to safety concerns the ordinance raises. The new website can be found at www.keepcapesafe.com.

"We have come to the realization that the bowhunting ordinance has transcended Cape Friends of Wildlife," Stigers said. "This new group was organized because this truly has become a safety issue. We're hearing from so many people in the community who feel like it's a bad ordinance."

Those behind the referendum push, Stigers said, are moving quickly with a second purpose in mind -- if the signatures are certified before the first day of the scheduled deer hunt Sept. 1, the ordinance would be suspended until after the election.

Stigers said that more people are worried about the safety of humans rather than protecting the number of the city's deer, which supporters of the ordinance say are the cause of an increase in car crashes and ruined lawns.

"A lot of us think it's inhumane, but even more people than that are concerned about their own safety and their children's safety and their pet's safety," Stigers said. "This petition is direct democracy at work. I like to think we would get signatures from folks in favor of bowhunting, too, because they want to be able to vote on it."

The group's next organizational meeting is at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Cape Girardeau Public Library.

The Cape Girardeau City Council, on a split vote, approved the so-called urban deer hunting ordinance at its July 16 meeting, after amending the original bill to include several safety measures. Hunters have to obtain permission from property owners and only hunt on parcels greater than three acres, although adjoining property owners may combine tracts to reach that requirement. Arrows must be affixed with the hunter's state-issued identification number and harvested deer must be reported to the Cape Girardeau Police Department within two business days.

Hunting must be conducted from an elevated position at least 10 feet high to ensure arrows are directed toward the ground. Bows may not be discharged from across any street, sidewalk, road, highway or playground. They are not to be fired at people, cars, homes, churches, schools, playgrounds or buildings. Arrows are not to be fired within 150 yards of a church, school or playground or within 50 yards of a house, building, structure or car, according to a copy of the finalized ordinance.

Still, those safety measures were not enough to appease Stigers and his group. According to city attorney Eric Cunningham, the group has 40 days from the date the council passed the ordinance to gather the required number of signatures, which equals to 10 percent registered voters who did so at the last general city election in 2010. After the signatures are collected, the city clerk has 20 days to certify them, ensuring they are residents who are also registered voters.

"I'm sure all kinds of questions will come up as time goes by," Cunningham said.

Cunningham confirmed that this would be the city's first referendum, which is when voters will be asked to remove an ordinance. The city's only initiative petition -- to put an ordinance on the books -- was the group that gathered signatures to put in place a smoking ban in public places.

But the group isn't trying to make history, according to member Scott Howes, who designed the website. Howes has no problem with hunting deer -- just not in the city limits.

"If it happens, we're not going to have a secure town as of mid-September," Howes said.

smoyers@semissourian.com

388-3642

Pertinent address:

711 N. Clark Ave., Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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