Roeland Park sets pit bull vote for Jan. 26 council meeting; limit on number still debated

With a small audience of citizens staying to the end, the Roeland Park City Council met for nearly five hours Monday night, the second such session in two weeks.
With a small audience of citizens staying to the end, the Roeland Park City Council met for nearly five hours Monday night, the second such session in two weeks.

After months of discussion on a new animal control ordinance that would eliminate a ban on pit bull breeds in the city, the Roeland Park City has scheduled a vote for its Jan. 26 meeting. But that vote is dependent on how another discussion goes at the committee of the whole meeting which will immediately precede the council session that night.

Monday night, the council, meeting as the committee, conducted its second session in as many weeks that ran nearly five hours, adjourning shortly before 11 p.m. The animal control ordinance was a topic in both of the lengthly sessions. As it stands, the ordinance, with the breed specific ban removed, will be back for another discussion at the committee meeting Jan. 26, but the debate will focus only on a proposal from Mayor Joel Marquardt to limit the number of pit bulls allowed to only one per household until 2019. The final ordinance, either with or without that proposal included, is then set to come up for a final vote the same night. However, it could be pulled from the council agenda if the members are unable to reach a conclusion on the mayor’s proposal.

Marquardt apologized to the council for raising the suggestion so late in the discussion after his move was questioned by several council members. “I do apologize. I should have done it sooner. But I do think that is what’s best for our city,” Marquardt said. A week ago, the council had arrived at a final version of the ordinance, removing the pit bull ban, after a long debate. The item was back on the agenda Monday to review the final language and minor corrections.

“There is a lot of fear with these dogs – justified or not,” Marquardt said in making his proposal. The council has been divided over whether to remove the ban that was a result of a citizen petition many years ago. Marquardt’s suggestion, though, drew criticism. Councilor Jennifer Gunby, who drafted the ordinance, said it went against transparency to add an item for discussion after 10 p.m. on the same night, at one point calling it a “stall tactic.” Teresa Kelly also opposed the addition. “I campaigned for transparency,” Kelly said, “(to add something for discussion after 10 p.m.), that’s awful.”

Councilor Becky Fast, though, said she was “impressed” the mayor made the suggestion. “We all have to make compromises,” she said, noting the community has been “very divided” this past year. Councilors predicted a large crowd at the meeting for a final vote. “It is going to be packed with people who want to speak for this,” Gunby said. The council already has heard residents testify on both sides of the issue since its introduction in September.