Was This A Filibuster?
Cincinnati City Council talked for more than half an hour Wednesday about vicious dogs and pit bulls. On the table for a vote was an ordinance from Cecil Thomas that would train 10 police officers to learn to identify pit bulls and order any officer or dog warden to remove from premises any improperly confined vicious dog or "any dog identified as a pit bull terrier."
It wasn't just the ordinance itself that prompted the 30-plus minute discussion. Chris Bortz wanted to know why it didn't say specifically what training the officers would get. He did most of the questioning and wanted more time to do more, but Mayor Mark Mallory wouldn't give it to him. Bortz also dropped in a key piece of info: Harold Dates (he's the CEO of the SPCA, aka the head dog warden) was against the ordinance too.
Council members seemed more interested in how the ordinance got to the floor of council without debate first in Thomas' law committee (that's because he didn't have a quorum there Tuesday afternoon) and without the knowledge of members of a task force established last fall to study the city's vicious dog law and make fixes to it.
Bortz's aide, Tracy Schwetschenau, was a task force member. She only knew of one meeting. James Tomaszewski, an attorney, thought he was co-chairman of the task force and presented an update to law committee two weeks ago in that capacity. He showed up at council Wednesday, saying he'd only just heard about the ordinance. His update said the task force planned to take the summer to collect more information about dog complaints before coming back to council to propose changes. So imagine his surprise when he saw changes already Wednesday. Thomas said subcommittees of the task force had been meeting.
So Bortz, Jeff Berding and Laketa Cole started asking questions about how the task force, of which they thought council approved the members, got changed. Thomas said he changed it after deciding the task force had too many city workers on it. He wanted it, he said, to be "community-driven." That, of course, made them ask how one council member could unilaterally change the makeup of a group council had helped set up.
Thomas said the whole thing needed to be handled as an emergency to get the ordinance in place as summer and dog complaints start heating up. He insisted it was only a first step to be done while the task force continued its work. The extra officers are needed, he said, to collect more information about dog cases - information the task force needs to make its decisions about what to do next.
Cole said she's opposed to breed-specific legislation. The motion that established the task force in September 2007 did say the task force should investigate non breed-specific issues. Cole also said she "was not told this was about training of our officers." She suggested sending the ordinance back to committee for more study, but that motion failed 5-3. (Roxanne Qualls was absent)
Cole wanted to know how much it would cost to train the officers to be able to spot pit bulls. Thomas said it would be free, courtesy of the SPCA. That made people even more confused, since Bortz had said Dates was opposed to the ordinance.
Mallory finally cut the debate off, saying he'd hold the ordinance for one week.
In the end, Leslie Ghiz said, "Is that a filibuster, what I just witnessed?"
Mallory responded: "Probably the closest thing to it so far."