Sam Allard / Scene
Seven Hills Councilmen, preparing to disregard democracy. (Matthew Trafis far left.)
In a legislative maneuver virtually unprecedented in the state of Ohio, the Seven Hills City Council passed an ordinance Monday night that effectively circumvented a referendum that would have asked residents to vote on the legality of bowhunting in the city.
This is the latest salvo in a raging controversy in Cleveland’s southwestern suburbs between (in broad and by no means universally accurate strokes) animal rights activists on one side and heavily armed, cantankerous gardeners on the other.
Voters in six southern suburbs voted to allow bowhunting in their communities in the March primaries. Seven Hills joined the pro-camouflage majorities of North Royalton, Broadview Heights, Parma, Parma Heights and Strongsville.
After voters signaled their approval, Seven Hills formed an ad hoc committee to study the deer issue and to prepare specific legislation. An ordinance was then passed on August 8, “authorizing a nuisance abatement initiative for both the short term and long term control and reduction of the white-tailed deer population.”
Monday’s new ordinance, though, with the same language as the August 8 version, was passed as an emergency measure — “a non-disclosed, non-specific emergency,” in the words of one distressed public commenter — and was positioned by Council President Matthew Trafis as necessary for residents’ safety. (An irony, in the view of opponents, as what it now permits is something much more objectively dangerous: arrows nocked and loosed upon the streets of a built-up suburb.)
The legislative maneuver was interpreted by the Ohio Deer Defenders in attendance as a “low, sneaky, dirty” tactic by the lawmakers to get around having the issue on November’s ballot.
“I understand that the issues in front of us today can be very emotional, no matter which side of the aisle you’re on” Trafis told a crowd of nearly 75 at the Seven Hills Municipal Complex, in opening remarks Monday.
He said that though necessary petition signatures had been approved and a referendum on the deer ordinance was technically required, “our law department advised us in previous meetings that Ohio law allows for council to place on the agenda for a vote within 30 days of the petition being submitted, a vote to overturn our own ordinance and pass a new ordinance as an emergency measure to protect the health and safety of our residents, and that is not subject to referendum. Case law confirms that this process is legal.”
Trafis said that over the past several years, residents have asked for legislation aimed at culling deer. Residents’ concerns have been primarily safety-related: safety while driving, safety from “charging deer,” and safety for children and pets who alternately eat and roll around in backyard scat. The backyards of Seven Hills were described as veritable mountain ranges of deer poop.
At any rate, the ordinance was passed without any discussion from council, but not without spirited public comment.
The anti-culling crowd, aligned along familiar anti-animal-brutality themes, brought their t-shirts and their statistics.
Sam Allard / Scene
Almost all of these people have something to say.
Lucy McKernan, nothing if not the tip of Seven Hills’ Deer-Defending spear, spoke first. She argued that that the fear mongering about deer as a public safety threat was absurd. In the past five years, she said, speaking from data she’d obtained through public records requests, there have been no human fatalities or even injuries (reported) in all six southwestern suburbs considering bowhunting.
McKernan said that their were 66 reported deer-vehicle collisions (DVCs) between September 2015 and September 2016 in Seven Hills, but only 28, in her view, were legitimate, as many of the reports (10-15 percent) were duplicates, others were reported late at the police station, and in other reports no deer or vehicle was found at the scene.
The most cogent argument against the ordinance was presented by a 50-year resident named Joe Lindway who warned that this would represent a headache for local police — a single officer will be assigned to the bowhunting beat — whose tasks, according to Trafis, at this point seem to be little more than “making sure the [hunting] stands are in the appropriate places.”
The ordinance allows for residents and non-residents to hunt deer (one buck and up to four does) so long as a property owner of 2.25 acres, or contiguous property owners with total acreage of more than 2.25, give them “permission.”
“We’re not in Medina,” said Lindway, who said hunting was good in other circumstances. “We’re not on farms anymore.”
The pro-culling crowd offered personal testimony about their violent encounters with deer. Their experiences corroborated Trafis’s review of resident complaints. Their gardens had been ravaged by deer, they said. Their morning jogs had been interrupted by charging deer, they said; their pets had been besmirched and bacterially infected with the scat of deer, they said.
“I pay a lot of money to live where I live,” said one pro-culler, who identified as a local educator. “These animals must be stopped.”
The loudest talking point on the pro-culling side, though, was related to the referendum petition itself. Many felt that they’d been tricked into signing something they didn’t understand.
Laughter and derision were the order of the day, on both sides. One of the only times when public commenters weren’t subjected to heckling from opponents was when 57-year resident Tom Jaros (a 2015 Seven Hills Mayoral candidate) spoke. He said he signed Lucy McKernan’s petition because he respected her constitutional right to collect it, but that he disagreed with her views. He got choked up talking about his elderly mother’s inability to watch her great grandchildren play in the yard due to the abundance of deer and scat.
“This is screwed up,” Jaros said. “This political horseshit needs to stop.”
And it did, abruptly. Council adjourned to an executive session to briefly discuss “potential litigation” and then came back to unanimously repeal the August 8 ordinance and pass the new ordinance as an emergency measure. Councilman Tom Kraynak was the only council member who spoke, reading a letter from one of his constituents about an alleged near-death deer-vehicle-collision, but which mostly attacked Lucy McKernan, into the record. (McKernan said no such crash was ever reported.)
“It’s not over,” McKernan told one of her Deer-Defender cohort in the post-meeting mingling, wearing an arrow hat. She said they’d be pursuing further legal recourse. She emailed Scene after the meeting to insist that she never lied to residents when obtaining signatures and said she felt abused and beat up in the aftermath of the meeting. She suspected the pro-culling crowd only attended at the personal behest of council.
“They had never been to any of the previous meetings,” McKernan wrote. “[Council] needed to create this circus to justify their decision.”
Lane Ferrante, a Twinsburg resident and one of the state organizers for Deer Defenders of Ohio, said they’re mobilizing neighborhood deer hunt watches to track the success of the bowhunting ordinances.
But for the pro-culling crowd, it was a victorious night. With Mayor Richard Della’Quilla’s signature, the ordinance would go into effect Tuesday, and permitting could begin immediately.
“Kill them all,” a pro-culler named Sharon Dickey howled into the night as she walked to her car, “Kill them all!”