You could see the democratic process in action last week when the Columbus City Council considered the controversial topic of allowing backyard chickens within the city limits.
The council voted 6-1 during its Oct. 4 meeting to approve an amendment allowing residents to have up to four backyard chickens. Until that point, the city ordinance restricted farm-related animals to properties of 5 acres or bigger. But some residents with chickens on their properties had claimed their animals were pets, which put enforcement in question and triggered the need for more study.
The city council reached its decision after elected officials sought input from city residents on both sides of the issue, hoping they could craft a compromise.
The council had initially voted in June to ban ownership of chickens outright within city limits. But when the meeting for the second reading of the ordinance rolled around, strong opinions on both sides of the matter caused the council to hit the pause button.
Instead of taking a final vote, the council formed a 10-person citizen committee to review the matter and make a recommendation to the council on what the city’s ordinance should include about owning chickens in the city.
The committee included five pro-chicken members and five anti-chicken members, assigned to work with council members Tom Dell, a Democrat, and Laurie Booher, a Republican. Their months-long collaboration resulted in a recommendation, in a 6-4 committee vote, which stipulated:
- A limit of six chickens, all hens, in backyard coops
- No roosters
- Parameters for code enforcement of coops and treatment of chickens
The council, in a 6-1 vote, ultimately settled on limit of four chickens — all hens — along with the other recommendations. The amended ordinance will take effect Dec. 4.
Ultimately, this was a fair process that involved give and take by people on both sides of the issue. In the end, it struck a balance. Chicken supporters are allowed to have the poultry on their property, but people who opposed them got limits on what was allowed, and with oversight parameters.
The collaborative process serves the public well, and can do so at all levels of government.
Our leaders in Washington would benefit from a simple reminder on how the democratic process can be used to produce positive results.