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Jennings Chickens Out

Albany mayor vetoes backyard-poultry bill despite public support; veto override planned

by Jason Chura on May 18, 2011 · 1 comment

Jennings announced on Friday that he would veto the ordinance, passed 8-7 by the Albany Common Council on May 2, that would have granted Albany city dwellers the ability to operate backyard chicken coops.

“The mayor made a mistake in vetoing the ordinance, because the majority of the people that came out spoke in favor of it,” said Councilman Dominick Calsolaro (Ward 1), sponsor of the vetoed legislation. “It was actually a slap in the face to those people that came out in support of something. They wanted to see their democracy work. They went to their representatives. They did what they had to do, and then the mayor says, ‘Sorry, my vote trumps your vote.’”

The mayor’s office issued a statement accompanying the veto, claiming the legislation was “a piecemeal approach to a broader issue” and that it failed to “address the core issues of urban agriculture in general.”

“While I regret his decision to ultimately veto the chickens, I think it provides the public with a really clear understanding of where he’s at when it comes to progressive policies for our city,” said Michael Guidice, who founded the Albany Chicken Coalition with his wife, Jen Pursley.

Fiscal concern, the primary issue raised by the Albany Common Council members who stood opposed to the legislation, was also cited in the mayor’s statement, which said that the legislation failed to specifically identify the ordinance’s overall financial impact on the city and did not spell out the fines and penalties that would be owed for code violations.

At a May 13 press conference announcing the veto, Jennings decried chicken supporters for not researching the costs before proposing the bill.

“As far as I’m concerned, if this legislation was going to be passed, it should have been vetted much more than it was,” said Jennings. “If I’m a council member, and I put legislation out, I’m going to think about it. And I’m going to answer those questions right up front.”

When asked what the fiscal impact of enforcement would be, the mayor said he did not know.

“If it’s one person, when I’m looking at laying off police and fire and everything else, that’s one person too much,” said the mayor.

“He didn’t have a dollar figure,” Calsolaro said.  “He went on some ramble about the cost of one city employee to cover the cost of the hen ordinance is one employee too many. It made no logical sense. He had no figures.”

The mayor’s statement also enumerated other reasons for the veto, including the proposal’s failure to include an anti-slaughtering provision, to limit the breeds of hens allowed in the city, and to require an insect- and rodent-control plan from chicken applicants.

“This was a step back for Albany,” said Calsolaro. “Other cities have been passing these [ordinances] left and right. It’s not a controversial issue unless you make it controversial.”

Chicken supporters claim that Jennings’ concerns are disingenuous; that he was reaching for reasons to veto the ordinance simply because he did not agree with it. According to Guidice, despite numerous attempts to meet with the mayor, the Albany Chicken Coalition was never able to secure an audience with Jennings to plead their case.

“We reached out about half a dozen times and every single time we were denied a meeting,” said Guidice. “We did actually get into the office at one point with them. We had a brief meeting with Bob Van Amburgh; he gave us less than five minutes and then shuffled us out of the office.”

At the veto press conference, the mayor claimed to not recall the Chicken Coalition’s repeated attempts to meet.

“This idea that we never reached out to him or that they never heard anything from us . . . I don’t like to call someone on truthfulness, but this is just untrue,” said Guidice.

Calsolaro plans to call for a veto override vote at the June 6 Common Council meeting. To override the mayor’s veto, a total of 10 council members would have to vote in favor of the legislation.

Regardless of the results of the veto override vote, the Chicken Coalition has taken the mayor’s veto as a call to arms. Guidice and Pursley’s next venture is a citywide voter-registration campaign with clear and ominous intentions for Jennings’ incumbency.

“Through the chicken campaign we saw that people are fed up,” said Guidice. “People really want to see something different. Our city is not going to be successful unless we have progressive leadership that’s creating policy that’s attracting new residents and young people. The strategic nonengagement from the Jennings administration is just old politics, and it doesn’t work anymore. And we’re going to show him that.”

—Jason Chura

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