The Prairie Village City Council by a 7-5 margin on Tuesday rejected a motion to repeal the city’s controversial ban on pit bull breeds.
The long debate saw five motions to alter the ban, all rejected by the same vote. It also included a moment when Mayor Laura Wassmer warned that some members of the public might be asked to leave because of their vocal demonstrations.
The council members voting in favor of repeal included Eric Mikkelson, Jori Nelson, Serena Schermoly, Steve Noll and Andrew Wang. Voting to keep the ban in place were Sheila Myers, Brooke Morehead, Ted Odell, Ashley Weaver, Courtney McFadden, Dan Runion and Terrence Gallagher.
Mikkelson made the original motion to repeal the ban effective Dec. 1 in order to give the city time to re-write its animal control ordinance and strengthen the provisions on dangerous dogs in the city. At the last council meeting, more than 30 people testified on the issue, all but one in favor of lifting the ban. Tuesday was designed to be for council discussion, but the committee of the whole meeting ended without a vote on Mikkelson’s motion. When the subsequent council meeting started, 10 more people made statements during public participation, again a majority for repeal, although two speakers asked to keep the ban.
“The mountain of evidence is in favor of repealing this ban,” Mikkelson said. What Prairie Village residents want and what the experts say about public safety are the two primary considerations, he said.
Myers was the first to speak in support of the ban, saying Prairie Village does not have a problem with pit bulls because residents can’t own them. She asserted that some cities are considering reinstating a ban on pit bull breeds.
Prairie Village is one of only three cities in Johnson County that still has breed-specific animal control legislation.
A survey of police departments in cities without the ban, Nelson said, did not show any problems. Morehead said she made eight calls to apartment owners in cities without the ban and found that they do not allow pit bulls.
“Do we not trust our professionals,” asked Schermoly, who cited local veterinarians who support lifting the ban.
Morehead also cited a personal experience when her dog was attacked by a boxer mixed breed that had escaped from a neighbor’s yard. She noted Mikkelson’s support for urgent changes to Mission Road that he had categorized as a safety concern, saying pit bulls were an equal safety issue.
“If I thought breed specific made us any safer,” Mikkelson responded, “I would be all for it, but I am convinced it makes us less safe.”
Mayor Wassmer called it a “lose-lose” situation. “If we overturn this pit bull ban and someone’s 2-year-old was (hurt) by a pit bull, I couldn’t live with that.”
“This is a challenge for me. I don’t think there is a good answer,” Wassmer said.
Wang disagreed with the “lose-lose” characterization, saying the city needs to focus on creating a more responsible ordinance.
After Mikkelson’s original motion was defeated, Nelson made three more motions and Mikkelson one more that would have repealed the ban, but added other qualifications or restrictions on pit bulls. All were defeated by the same 7-5 margin.
At one point, a member of the audience came to the microphone to raise a point of order during the council-only discussion and Wassmer repeatedly tried to get her to sit down. A short time later, the audience — filled with people supporting repeal — responded loudly to comments being made by council members. “If you can’t be quiet, you are going to leave,” Wassmer told the group.
Before the disruption, Wassmer said no one was speaking for the “silent majority,” contending that residents she had talked with do not support repealing the ban.