Monday, November 23, 2009

Referendum on Domesticated Animals in City Parks

Back in August, the City Council passed Resolution 09-315, the purpose of which was to "amend ordinance to allow dogs at Rusch/Sawyer Creek Park." During the deliberation about the resolution, it was revealed that dogs had been in Rusch/Sawyer Creek Park for a long time because most people considered the area to be a trail. But because Rusch/Sawyer Creek is legally defined as a park, in order to continue with the accepted behavior (i.e. allowing dogs to walk on the trail), we had to change the municipal code. The language of Res 09-315 said the following:

"Persons will be allowed to have domesticated animals at Rusch/Sawyer Creek Park provided that such domesticated animals shall be on a leash no longer than six feet (6') and shall be under full control of their owners."

Also during that evening's deliberations, it became clear that there is a segment of the citizenry that would like to see dogs allowed in all city parks. I suggested that evening that we should have an advisory referendum to find out how large that sentiment is. In late September I met with City Attorney Lynn Lorenson and Acting Parks Director Bill Sturm to work on referendum language. My view was that the language of a referendum should be similar to what we passed in Res 09-315. Thus, here is what the Council will be voting on tomorrow:

WHEREAS the issue of whether domesticated animals should be allowed in Oshkosh city parks is one of great interest to citizens at-large; and

WHEREAS the Common Council desires to receive advice from City voters about whether or not to adopt an ordinance that would allow domesticated animals in City parks.

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED by the Common Council of the City of Oshkosh that the following advisory referendum question be placed on the April 6, 2010 ballot:

Should persons be allowed to have domesticated animals at city parks--except in areas such as zoos, playgrounds, golf courses, the water park, cemeteries, and athletic fields--provided that such domesticated animals shall be on a leash no longer than six feet (6') and shall be under full control of their owners?

Yes_______________ No______________________

My gut feeling is that a majority of people in Oshkosh would like to allow dogs in parks. That is based on the commentary about it I've seen over the years. However, I do not know if those comments represent a vocal minority or the majority of citizens. I personally lean toward allowing dogs in city parks, but if a clear majority of citizens in a referendum said that they did not want them there, then I would not support it. This strikes me as a classic case of an issue where an advisory referendum is appropriate and useful. Perhaps it might even increase voter turnout in April.

If you'd like to contact the City Council and provide input on whether we should place the referendum question on the ballot, click here.