(Laura Simon) [Order this photo]
"It says to me we have this behind us now, and we really need to move on to other things with our citizens, council and staff. We have a lot of things to look forward to in 2013," Mayor Harry Rediger said Tuesday night after the votes were counted. "Yes" votes to repeal the ordinance were 1,485, while "No" votes were 1,279.
The vote marked the first time in the city's history an ordinance was repealed by referendum.
Management of the city's deer population had been brought up in city council at times before fall of 2011. But it was at that time the council began discussions and a citizen committee was formed to study urban hunting programs in other communities and to hear from conservation experts. Public meetings were held, and in response to the "deer issue," as the constantly evolving conversation became called among residents and the council, an opposition group, Cape Friends of Wildlife, formed.
An ordinance creating an archery hunting program recommended by the committee passed through the council 4-3 in July.
After reorganizing itself into a new group called Keep Cape Safe, those opposed to urban hunting gathered about 4,000 signatures from registered voters when only 2,446 were needed. When the council did not vote to repeal the ordinance, the referendum sent it to the ballot.
As the election was approaching, a density survey of the city's deer population was conducted by the Missouri Department of Conservation, which found the city has an average density of 37 deer per square mile -- an amount the department said is similar to densities seen elsewhere in the state where communities have taken action to reduce the herd.
Dr. Stephen Stigers, who led both opposition groups, was concerned how the wording of ballot language might affect the outcome of the special election, since voters were asked to choose "Yes" if they wanted to repeal the ordinance, which would mean hunting would not be allowed, and were asked to choose "No" if they wanted the ordinance to stay in place and hunting to be allowed.
But by Tuesday night, those worries were gone.
"I'm thinking that I really am proud of our community, and I am really proud of all the folks that worked to make this happen," he said. "This was Cape Girardeau's first referendum. It's historic in a small way, maybe. I think it has a lot to teach us about difficult choices. Violence and cruelty are never good choices."
Turnout was low, with less than 2,800 votes cast, but the number also was fairly reflective of turnout across Cape Girardeau County, which saw 10.2 percent of registered voters head to the polls, according to the summary report from the county's election center.
Early on Tuesday, turnout was low in multiple polling locations, but the reason some voters did come out was evident.
One voter's car at Westminster Presbyterian Church was decked out with an opinion on the deer question.
"Control the urban deer population," read signs adhered to the back windows. "Please vote no on April 2. Give plants and small animals a chance."
One precinct seeing plenty of traffic early Tuesday afternoon was Precinct 16, where election officials said nearly 200 people had voted by 1 p.m. at La Croix United Methodist Church.
By about 2 p.m., 180 people had voted at St. Andrew Lutheran Church. Early in the day, one of the city's busiest polling places, the Brase Arena Building, was evacuated for about 20 minutes for a gas smell from a pilot light.
Cape Girardeau County Clerk Kara Clark Summers predicted last week the voter turnout in the county would be around 15 percent.
Four voters who declined to give their names said they voted "no" on the deer hunting question, and provided various reasons for doing so.
"I didn't really feel strongly either way," said one man, "but I think the hunting will be very limited. I don't think it will be a problem."
The ordinance would have required hunters to get permission from property owners before hunting, required use of an elevated stand in an area containing less than 10 acres of land and prohibited hunting on less than three acres of land. The ordinance also stated certain rules for firing arrows near property lines and onto private and public property, and required that hunters perform a "reasonable search" for a deer they injured or killed.
Injured deer and the problems they could cause were the reason Phil Hinkle said he voted to repeal the ordinance.
"A wounded deer is more of a danger to the community and other property than anything in the form of a live deer," he said.
Another voter said she felt like the deer management committee and the city council did enough research to convince her that a program was needed, so she voted "no."
Rediger said he has no interest in pursuing any additional action to create an urban hunting program in Cape Girardeau.
The city's Ward 6 has a new councilman after Wayne Bowen's election. He ran unopposed.
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