Monday, July 11, 2016

What you may not know: Week of July 11

Good morning, folks. I hope everyone had a safe and happy Fourth of July holiday. I spent mine up north visiting family. Now that I'm back, here's what on the agendas for our regularly-scheduled committee week:

Parks & Recreation, Monday, 6 pm:

One of the most contentious issues we've ever faced during my time on council returns to the spotlight this week, as the Parks & Recreation Committee will again be asked to consider a resolution to allow leashed dogs in Appleton city parks. Some of you will likely remember that this issue came up back in 2013, and was the subject of some pretty heated discussion at that time. To date, that discussion is the only time I've ever had to reply to a constituent email with the following:
Dear (redacted),
Thank you for your email. Please allow me to assure you that I do not have marbles in my brain.
I could go on for days on this issue (and over the coming months I'll likely get that opportunity), but for now I'll attempt to keep things brief by narrowing my argument down to a few bullet points:

  • There is plenty of precedent both within the Fox Valley (Neenah, for example) and beyond for allowing dogs in parks. The communities that have done so do not appear to be experiencing major issues with sanitation or safety as a result.
  • There's strong reason to believe our existing ordinance banning dogs in parks isn't actually keeping irresponsible pet owners out of parks. 
  • Furthermore, that irresponsible group represents a very small percentage of all pet owners and is not an acceptable reason to penalize all dog owners.
  • Encountering a leashed dog in a park, where you can give it a wide berth if you so choose, is actually less likely to cause an issue than encountering the same dog on a city sidewalk.
  • Having safe and controlled spaces to take a dog during training is a critically important part of the effort to have an obedient, well-socialized animal.
  • Having an unleashed, free-for-all dog park is not the same thing and does not offer the same training or socialization opportunities as having your leashed dog in a park.
  • We have anecdotal evidence to suggest that our policies on dogs in parks have caused dog owners to choose to visit or live elsewhere. 
I'm sure this issue is going to be contentious again in the weeks and perhaps months to come. At the end of the day, though, this is the simple reality for me: I'm not convinced that our current fear-driven policy is actually keeping anyone safer, but I do believe it's keeping a significant number of responsible people from enjoying our parks and making our community a less attractive place to visit and live.

Three years ago I asked council to please consider adopting a similar set of policies to what is currently established in state parks. The state rules include the following:
  • Pets must be on a leash (no longer than eight feet) and under control at all times. Pet owners who fail to control a pet or whose pet is creating a public nuisance may be asked to leave the park or issued citations.
  • Loose pets may be seized and treated as stray animals.
  • Pet owners are responsible for removal and disposal of waste products (just like they are on any other property).
  • Pets are not allowed inside buildings, in playgrounds, or places where food is being prepared.
I think this is a realistic framework for a compromise that would still leave our parks as a safe, usable space for all of the current users but also remove unnecessary restriction on our responsible pet owners.

Municipal Services Committee, Tuesday, 6:30 pm

A long project will take an important step forward on Tuesday night when the Municipal Services Committee has their first chance to see the results of our ongoing Downtown Mobility Study presented by AECOM and Toole Design Group. I have not yet seen the presentation but I'm eager to hear their findings and I hope we'll find recommendations within that we can implement to make our downtown safer and more accessible for all users.

Additionally, on Tuesday the committee will be asked to consider a recommendation to replace the current yield signs with stop signs at the corner of Alexander and Lindbergh streets. That's the northeast corner of the Huntley Elementary School grounds. Due to a technical issue I'm currently unable to open the attachment to read the rationale for this change, but I suspect this move will make this intersection a little safer for the pedestrians that cross the road here each school day.

You can see agendas for all of this week's meetings and the full schedule at the city's Legistar page.

Keeping you informed on issues that may impact you around the city is one of my primary goals as an alderman. Good governance happens in the open, and I remain committed to raising awareness on the issues coming before us.

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