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Fight over ducks will go more rounds

kenneth cityThe council votes to ban wildlife feeding on private property.

By ANNE LINDBERG, Times Staff Writer
Published October 14, 2007


The drawn-out, nasal quaaaaaaaaaack of a duck call set the tone for what followed:

Round 1 of the near-epic struggle between determined duck feeders and disgusted duck detractors.

The anti-duck forces won. By a 4-1 vote, the Kenneth City Town Council gave preliminary approval to an ordinance that would ban the feeding of wildlife on private property. The town already forbids wildlife feeding in public areas. A final vote is scheduled in November.

In recent months, Muscovy duck feeding has become a problem in Kenneth City. The feeding has attracted large numbers of the fowl, which pleases some but irks others who do not like the mess the birds leave behind.

When the feeding ban was proposed last month, it seemed to be a slam dunk. Mayor Muriel Whitman, for example, has had to cope with a burgeoning flock on her lawn because a neighbor fed them.

"You start feeding the ducks, you're going to have a herd of them," council member Al Carrier said. "That's what happened to the mayor."

Carrier estimated 200 of them had descended on Whitman at one point even though the mayor never fed them.

But the proposal brought out a flock of duck lovers who asserted their right to do as they please on their own property. They also charged that the Muscovies, which many people find to be ugly and grouchy, were being hurt and maimed by people who do not want them around.

The ordinance was tabled until last Wednesday while the council gathered information. The month's delay gave both sides a chance to muster their forces.

By last Wednesday, between 70 and 80 people crowded into the Community Hall to listen to the debate. Among them were a few non-Kenneth City residents who had migrated from Pinellas Park after a task force meeting there. They'd come to watch the skirmish.

They were not disappointed. One man brought a hunter's duck call, which he sounded several times before the meeting began. And, once the debate started, audience members clapped, applauded and booed, depending on their opinion of the point that was being made.

At one point, a quick spat broke out when Paul Lyons suggested that the town had violated state law by failing to properly advertise the proposed ordinance.

Town Clerk Nancy Beelman, who is responsible for making sure the rules are followed, was outraged. Beelman outlined her training and said she'd already told Lyons that the advertisement must come before the second public hearing.

Lyons disagreed.

Beelman snapped: "You're not interpreting (the law) correctly."

Residents peppered the council with questions and objections: How many ducks constitutes a flock? Who is going to interpret the rule? Is it okay to just feed one duck? What if another duck walks up at the same time? Isn't it unrealistic to think the rule could be enforced?

Whitman said, "The object of this ordinance is not to feed any of the ducks."

Council member Wanda Dudley, the lone vote against the ordinance, said, "If you feed one duck, you've violated the ordinance."

Town Attorney Paul Marino tried to clear up some of the confusion by saying residents could still put bird feeders in their yards. The ordinance is directed at ducks that are being fed on private property, he said.

If clarification is necessary, Marino said, the proposal could be changed so it outlawed only the feeding of Muscovies.

Someone in the back of the audience muttered, "Isn't that profiling?"

Some speakers spoke long and passionately about duck poop. Gobs of it.

"I do not hate the ducks," resident Billy de Busk said. But, with 45-50 ducks hanging around, it has become impossible, he said, to use his yard because of the droppings left behind.

De Busk conceded he had chased the ducks from his yard, but denied being cruel to them. He also doubted the allegations that the ducks are being maimed and killed.

"If it was, you'd see dead ducks all over the place," de Busk said.

He was applauded and booed.

Mary Webster defended the Muscovies. Referring to allegations that a female Kenneth City police officer had pepper-sprayed one, she asked what the duck had been doing at the time. Was it being fed or just being a duck?

And, referring to the people who had allegedly injured them, she suggested, "These people should all be locked up with football player (Michael) Vick."

Webster said she resented the ducks being called ugly and grouchy.

"Muscovies I've seen aren't grouchy, they're usually going along minding their own business," Webster said.

In all, 21 people spoke - 14, pro-duck and seven, anti-duck. The pleas of the pro-duck forces were not enough. The council gave first reading approval to the ordinance.

After the vote, many of the pro-duck forces swarmed outside to talk to a television reporter and trade angry comments about what they perceived as anti-duck bias displayed by the mayor.

The mournful quaaaaaaaaaaack of the duck call provided a background lament to the scene.

[Last modified October 13, 2007, 22:03:28]

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