Once upon a time, proclamations marked the everybody-feel-good, motherhood-and-apple-pie start of Asheville City Council meetings: Heritage Week, Honor America Days, Asheville Sister Cities Month, Goombay! Festival Days, or even Asheville an International Peace Zone at the Year 2000.
But there’s been little peace since Oct. 2, when Mayor Leni Sitnick proclaimed Oct. 25-Nov. 1 to be Earth Religions Awareness Week. A group of conservative Christians demanded that she retract the proclamation and, instead, endorse Lordship of Jesus Christ Awareness Week. A group of moderates urged Sitnick not to make such a proclamation, citing the separation of church and state. Meanwhile, the media picked up on the story, and Sitnick’s proclamation made both local and national TV news.
Council’s Oct. 27 session proved no different: Television crews and newspaper photographers set up their cameras to get close-ups of the mayor. City staff brought in extra chairs, anticipating the big turnout.
When the mayor and the other six City Council members took their seats, the silence was thick with anticipation.
But all Sitnick did was read a statement, declaring she would not issue the “Lordship” proclamation, nor any other proclamations, after this end-of-October session. “The mayor traditionally issues proclamations at the request of individuals or groups — approximately 100 a year,” she noted. Sitnick also emphasized that the Earth Religions proclamation had been made by her alone: “City Council had no part in this.” And, she added, “The proclamation neither endorses or embraces any of the Earth Religions, which include Native American Spirituality, Celtic, Pagan, traditional African celebration, Shintoism and Daoism, but rather calls for awareness and tolerance.”
Sitnick stated, “It is my responsibility to represent all citizens without bias. As a citizen of the United States, I believe in the fundamental, constitutional right of freedom of religion. … It is not for any one to tell another how to worship their creator.” She also made a point of mentioning other “proclamations with religious themes” that have been made in the past few decades, such as Calvary Baptist Church Day, Beth Israel Day, Days of Remembrance and Bible Week — which, she said, “have never caused a problem or been an issue.”
Sitnick also announced that the Earth Religions proclamation had, “by mutal agreement,” been returned. “I am suspending the issuance of proclamations and will consider, with the Council, what to do in the future. I will issue no further statements and answer no other questions.”
She urged citizens to “have a greater understanding of what our founding fathers meant when they wrote the First Amendment to the Constitution.” [For the full text of Sitnick’s remarks, see our “Letters” section.]
And that was that — except that Sitnick had two final proclamations to issue: Pornography Awareness Week/White Ribbon Against Pornography Campaign (Oct. 31-Nov. 7), and November as Native American Month.
Bruce Two Eagles thanked Sitnick for the latter proclamation, remarking that it is an honor for Native Americans to be recognized culturally, educationally and religiously. The YMI Cultural Center will be featuring a display of Native American art as part of the month-long celebration.
The poop on the new pet law
One item appeared, rather appropriately, at the end of Asheville City Council’s long Oct. 27 agenda: an ordinance requiring pet owners to clean up after their animals — affectionately dubbed the “pooper-scooper” law.
“I’m batting cleanup — and talking about cleanup,” joked City Attorney Bob Oast, who drafted the ordinance at Mayor Sitnick’s suggestion. Since Council members had already reviewed the proposal at their Oct. 19 work session, Oast raised a few points about tidying up the draft: The offence, subject to a $10 fine, doesn’t occur during the actual act of defecation — that is, the dog is not a criminal; the offence occurs when the pet owner fails to scoop up the fecal matter afterward and dispose of it properly. Oast also stressed that, per Council’s wishes, the ordinance applies only to violations that occur on public property, or on private property without the property owner’s consent.
Council member Barbara Field, trying to find a way to ask a question without cracking a joke, quizzed Oast on how the new ordinance could be enforced: “How do you prove the act?”
“DNA testing,” wisecracked Sitnick.
Actually, it will be up to law-enforcement officers and Buncombe County Friends for Animals officers to make the new law stick. Citizens, he noted, could file a complaint, but they’d need photographs or witnesses as proof.
Sitnick noted that the city has other hard-to-enforce ordinances — such as litter laws and the noise ordinance, both of which rely on catching violators in the act. “This [new] ordinance just allows us to get the message out there. … Usually, when it happens in neighborhoods, it’s the same dogs … running around,” the mayor said, mentioning that the problem is worse downtown.
But the ever-practical Field persisted with another point: The ordinance implies that pet owners must not only clean up after their animals, but must also haul their treasures home with them. Other cities with similar ordinances, she mentioned, “have provided containers … frequently placed, so they don’t have people carrying this stuff around.”
Oast responded that he had literature in his office about special receptacles for animal waste — eliciting an eruption of chuckles from both Council members and the audience. But Oast continued doggedly, noting that the ordinance isn’t “going to do much to [deter] stray dogs from soiling property.” He said he would incorporate Council’s suggestions, such as removing a clause allowing officers to “impound the animal” in repeat cases.
“I just want to be clear … about [not] making the dogs criminals,” said Field.
Sitnick — just a tad tongue-in-cheek — asked her fellow Council members, “Do we feel comfortable enough with what we’ve taken out and put in [to this ordinance]?”
Most Council members did. On a motion by Chuck Cloninger, seconded by Tommy Sellers, they approved the new pooper-scooper law, which will take effect Jan. 1, 2000. (Field was the lone nay vote).