Cape Girardeau City Council shoots down November deer election

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

If the urban deer hunting proposal makes its way to a municipal ballot anytime soon, it won't be the Cape Girardeau City Council that puts it there.

But the leader of the group that has criticized it as unsafe and unkind to animals says they still fully intend to do so.

The council voted 4-1 on Monday night -- with two members absent -- to reject an emergency ordinance that would have asked voters whether to repeal the newly adopted program on the Nov. 6 ballot. Those who voted against the bill cited "legal uncertainties" created by the possibility of having the issue scheduled to be before voters in two separate elections.

Keep Cape Safe has been working since the council passed the ordinance July 16 to gather the 2,446 signatures needed in a petition that, if successful, would prompt the city's first-ever referendum to overturn a law. Group organizers said last week they have collected more than 1,500 and hope to obtain the rest from today's primary election voters.

Mayor Harry Rediger and council members Mark Lanzotti, Loretta Schneider and Kathy Swan voted against the measure. Only John Voss, the program's top council supporter, voted for the November election. An emergency ordinance was drafted because the council would have had to work quickly to make the November ballot.

Emergency ordinance rules allow a bill to be passed in one meeting without the 10-day waiting period typical for routine bills. But, with Meg Davis Proffer and Trent Summers not in attendance, all five there Monday would have needed to vote yes.

Rediger reminded those in attendance that Keep Cape Safe rejected Voss' offer last week to do what the council was considering. Voss attended a Keep Cape Safe meeting with an offer to try to convince the council to schedule a November election. He just asked that, if he was successful, the group would either not submit their petition or withdraw it if they had already done so. Citing the fact that the council could change its mind at any time, Stigers declined the offer the next morning.

"It was a valid effort and a good offer from John Voss," Rediger said. " ... But they said no. So I think the best method now to take into the future is to let them do the referendum."

At issue Monday were "legal uncertainties" that were vaguely talked about by the council members who voted against the measure. During a closed-session meeting before the vote, the council discussed the matter with city attorney Eric Cunningham. After the meeting, Cunningham declined to discuss what those legal questions were.

"To the extent that something is privileged, there were questions about how the process would work out," Cunningham said. "But I can't say what all was discussed."

Before the vote, Voss explained his rationale for asking for a November election to repeal a bill that he proposed. He acknowledged that Keep Cape Safe was "probably" going to put the question to voters. But he would prefer a November presidential election because presidential elections draw more voters than single-issue ballot questions. The group, constrained by charter-mandated waiting periods, seems unlikely to get the issue before voters before April.

Voss believes that as many residents should weigh in on the program as possible to more broadly represent the will of the people, he said. With its emergency ordinance rules, the council could meet the Aug. 28 deadline to file an election notice with the county clerk. Keep Cape Safe has myriad time requirements that make it impossible to get on the November ballot.

Voss also said that putting the issue on the existing November ballot would save taxpayers the responsibility of footing the $10,000 or so bill of a special election.

While Stigers, who organizes Keep Cape Safe's parent organization Cape Friends of Wildlife, has suggested that Voss is trying to save face by putting the issue on the ballot before them, Voss adamantly denied that in a Monday afternoon interview with the Southeast Missourian.

"I only want it on the ballot to make this issue go away as quickly as possible," Voss said.

Voss also disagrees with Stigers' assertion that Voss is acting out of a dawning realization that more people believe the program that is slated to begin Sept. 15 is wildly unpopular with city residents. Voss suggested that Stigers' group has intimidated a "silent majority" into remaining quiet. The group's members have suggested that council members had sold yes votes for money, and Voss recalls one "thinly veiled threat," where an opponent said: "If I get hurt by an arrow, you better hope it kills me." The group has also been antagonistic at times. So he understands, he said, why supporters are lying low.

"If I wasn't on the council, I would be quiet," Voss said. "But I am, so I feel obligated to speak up."

After the vote, Stigers said it was "preposterous" that his group has intimidated supporters from coming forward. His group isn't made up of public speakers, but they are passionate about their cause.

As for the vote, Stigers said the council appeared to have done what it legally had to.

"It doesn't matter to us," Stigers said. "We'd love to have the council repeal the ordinance themselves. Other than that, our referendum is the clearest way to put this issue behind us."

smoyers@semissourian.com

388-3642

Pertinent address:

401 Independence, Cape Girardeau, MO

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