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Town waddles into spotlight

The duck debate sparks jokes and a serious campaign.

By ANNE LINDBERG, Times Staff Writer
Published November 11, 2007


KENNETH CITY- This small town is often forgotten in the noise that comes from the bigger cities and the unincorporated area that surround it.

But that has radically changed in the past few weeks.

All it took was a bunch of Muscovy ducks and allegations of cruelty to the feathered critters.

Now all eyes have turned to Kenneth City as city officials grapple with those who oppose a proposed ban on the feeding of wild animals on private property.

And with the attention come the jokes.

Mayor Muriel Whitman says she's frequently asked, "How's the ducky city?"

"Nothing really, really humorous," Whitman said.

A friend gave her a small package and urged her to open it. Inside was a small duck ornament that quacks a Christmas carol when squeezed.

"I don't know if it was a joke or not," Whitman said.

There are others who have suggested the town should change its seal by substituting a duck for the heron.

"You're going to follow through on that, aren't you?" she asked a reporter Friday.

(We sure did. See above right. It might look something like that.)

Whitman laughs and puts a good face on the humor, but it distresses her some.

"I don't really think it's a funny situation. I think it's very sad that it's reached this," she said.

Whitman says she does not hate ducks, that she thinks they're cute but need to stay on ponds and in the wild, where they belong. When people feed them, they congregate and irritate some homeowners because of the mess they leave behind.

Whitman knows this. One of her former neighbors was a duck feeder. The ducks overflowed onto Whitman's property. She protested.

That's one reason many of the duck lovers who oppose the ordinance think she's biased against the ducks.

"It's a foregone conclusion" that the orwdinance will pass, said Paul Lyons. He and his wife, Maureen, have helped to spearhead the campaign to have the proposal defeated. "They've got a dog and pony show for the hearing coming up."

Lyons has many arguments against the proposal.

Town rules already forbid nuisance feeding of wild animals, Lyons said.

"All they're trying to do now is eliminate non-nuisance feeding," he said.

The proposal, he said, interferes with the rights of homeowners, who should be able to toss bread to ducks.

"No one's trying to get where you can raise a herd of ducks in your back yard," Lyons said.

Lyons also speaks of unintended consequences of the ordinance. Those who attended the preliminary reading of the ordinance last month were told that the proposal affects only ducks. But the wording covers all wild animals, Lyons pointed out. That means bird feeders - humans and the contraptions - would be banned, as would the tossing of a nut to a squirrel. The town cannot selectively enforce the ordinance against duck feeders but not against those who feed squirrels or blue jays.

"The water's been muddied. They haven't made it clear what they're going to do," he said.

So he and his wife have taken their battle to the Winn-Dixie. They've set up a tent to let people know the ordinance vote is coming up. And Lyons, a signmaker, has been giving signs to those who want them.

The signs say things like "Kenneth City Council, respect my property rights, no changes to wildlife ordinance" and "I support Muscovy ducks. Respect my property rights." The signs are all over town.

"We've been well received out there," Lyons said. "At least 40 signs have been handed out. ... I have orders for others if I can get them made fast enough."

Whitman said she's aware of the Lyonses' campaign and that she'd much rather see people get along.

"I really don't need all this. Why am I doing it?" she mused. "They're making me look like such a cruel person, and I'm not."

No matter which way the council goes, some faction is going to be upset.

"I wish we could please everybody," Whitman said.

At the very least, she said, "I hope we can put it to rest."

If you go

Final airing

At 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, the Kenneth City Town Council will give final consideration to an ordinance that would ban the feeding of wild animals on private property. The meeting is at the Community Hall, 4600 58th St. N. The meeting is open to the public.

[Last modified November 10, 2007, 22:21:05]

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