Editor's note: This article has been changed to reflect the new email address the city has set up to receive testimony for the public hearing.
As Independence city officials and citizen committee members discussed earlier this year how the city would fund the Regional Animal Shelter once it assumed operations from Great Plains SPCA, another question arose.
Would it be worthwhile for the city to take another look at “breed specific legislation,” commonly known as the pit bull ban?
Independence enacted the ban in 2006, after a handful of high-profile attacks, including one earlier in the year by two pit bulls on Alan Hill, who nearly died, losing five pints of blood and being in intensive care for two weeks. A relative carried a petition that gained more than 4,000 signatures, and the City Council voted for the ban later that year.
Wednesday, the city announced it has scheduled a public hearing on breed specific legislation for 6 p.m. Nov. 6 at the Independence Utilities Center, 17221 E. 23rd St.
A joint subcommittee of the Independence Advisory Board of Health and the Animal Welfare Committee will host the hearing. Members of the public are invited to attend and provide testimony. Speakers will be limited to three minutes and may sign up at the hearing. Citizens who are unable to attend can submit written testimony via email to BSLpublichearing@indepmo.org through Nov. 13.
Jason White, a member of the Advisory Board of Health and chair of the sub-committee, said the group has met a couple times, after Mayor Eileen Weir had asked the two standing committees to take a look at the pit bull ban.
“We got together and decided to form a joint sub-committee and gathered as information as we could. In our discussions, we thought that before we make a recommendation to the council, a public hearing would be a good process for us.”
“If we're making a recommendation on policy initially brought by the public, this would be good. In general, a lot of people are going to be interested in this, and we thought of how to make sure it's weighed into the discussion. We brought it to the mayor, and she didn't object to it.”
Weir said she had been reluctant to revisit the pit bull ban since she became mayor in 2014 and by then the council had completely changed over from who voted for the ban.
When Great Plains announced last January it would cease operating the shelter, leaving the city and Jackson County scrambling for a plan, Weir thought it made sense to revisit the issue. The no-kill animal shelter has always housed some pit bulls among its population and adopted them to those outside of the city.
Christina Heinen, director of animal services, said the shelter currently has about 100 dogs, one-fifth of which are considered pit bulls.
“It's definitely an issue that, in some people's opinion, has impacted the operation of the shelter,” Weir said. “Now that we're transitioning, we should understand exactly what the impact is.”
“It's been a long time since we looked at this, and a lot has changed in our city in terms of how we manage animal services, both in animal control and sheltering.”
The other sub-committee members are physician Terry Morris and veterinarian Matthew Wingate from the Advisory Board of Health and Tim Watkins and Cindy Marshall from the Animal Welfare Committee, which has some members appointed by the mayor and some by the Jackson County executive.
White said the group has been moving along well.
“We're hoping people will provide comments or submit something, or if they're aware of studies and articles and other communities' success or struggles with this.”
Weir said that, from her conversations with citizens, “it's equal on both sides” whether or not the pit bull ban has been good for the city.
“I think it's appropriate with any of our ordinances… to look at them from time to time and see if they're up to date,” she said.
The mayor cautioned that people shouldn't expect any action in the near term.
“I'm glad we have committees to look at it,” she said. “This is a step, and important one, but (a decision) is not imminent at all.”
“It's not a signal that any action will be taken; it's a signal that it's worth talking about. There was a culture that existed that maybe has changed. The bottom line is the safety of our community.”
Indeed, White said, it might be February before the subcommittee submits a report to the standing committees, and then if approved it could go to the City Council. The processes in Liberty and Wyandotte County didn't happen overnight, either.
“We've read through the testimony they had,” White said.