Elkader Council overrides mayoral veto on Carter Street, talks chickens

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By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register

The recent Elkader City Council meeting had a touch of déjà vu as Carter Street was back on the agenda after having seemingly cleared the necessary hurdle of approval at the previous meeting, when the council approved the street width of 28 feet and the sidewalk width of four-feet. 

However, a surprise veto by Mayor Josh Pope created a new round of debate and questions, though none of them from residents, who were no longer allowed to make comments on the issue, because, as Pope said, “They’d already been made.”

In order to override a mayoral veto, by state code, two-thirds of the five council seats have to vote to override, but that wasn’t the question most council members needed or wanted answered. Council member Daryl Koehn simply asked, “Why veto? I thought we had a comprise.” The short answer has to do with the council not following engineering standards. The longer answer deals with the murky nature of liabilities. 

In an interview, Pope explained the veto thusly: “The reason for the veto was because the council settled on a design that did not fit into any engineering standard. The engineers…provided two alternatives to follow the engineering standards. And the council did not go with either one. The council didn’t follow a previous council’s resolution to follow all engineering standards or a previous council’s vote to widen the street.” 

Regarding the aspect of liabilities, the mayor asked council members to reconsider their vote approving the resolution, labeling the final compromise “arbitrary” and commenting that “it wasn’t thought out.” He also asked the council to recognize the liabilities on the city if something happens.

When asked in the interview what that something is, Pope stated, “I don’t think our attorneys want us to get into too much detail on that question, [and] it is the council’s job to try to reduce risk. Following an engineering standard seems like a way to reduce that risk. It just doesn’t make sense that they had two options and rejected both for a third that was random.” 

The mayor also pointed out that “this project isn’t about the 23 residents on that block, but is much more than that for me. It’s about the whole community, including surrounding communities. This is a public emergency route.” 

The council, after further discussion, and understanding that the previous decision did not conform to engineering standards, motioned to override the veto. In the final vote, all five council members voted to override the veto and uphold Resolution 2020-37. 

Chickens discussed

The other topic of note at last week’s meeting, revolved around chickens and whether a family who owned them could continue to have them or not. According to the resident in question, they’ve had around five chickens for the last two years, mainly for their children and egg production. However, after the city council received two complaints about the chickens wandering into neighbor’s yards, it was added to the agenda because having the chickens currently violates the law. 

According to city code, “It is unlawful for a person to keep livestock within the city except by written consent of the council or except in compliance with the city’s zoning regulations.” The resident did not receive consent at any time during the previous two years. 

One of the issues appears to be that poultry is defined as “livestock” in Section 170.1 of the Code of Iowa, which makes the argument that they are a trained family pet used for FFA and 4-H rather moot. The resident argued he was not aware of the code, while also stating, “I haven’t hid it from nobody.” He also said Elkader is the “only place in Clayton County that doesn’t allow chickens,” but a cursory search of nearby cities suggests otherwise. According to City Administrator Jennifer Cowsert, “The statement that we are the only town that doesn’t allow them seems to be false. Guttenberg does not allow them, and in looking through Strawberry Point’s code and Monona’s code, they use the same definition we do.”

The resident said the chickens are typically confined, though they have been let out, and the area is not fenced in. The chickens roaming freely into neighbors’ yards seems to have spurred the conversation. 

Council member Koehn said, “Personally, I don’t have a problem with it, but it is a slippery slope.” 

Council member Ed Josten suggested removing chickens from the definition of livestock, and member Bob Hendrickson was inclined to support the chickens if they were fenced in completely. 

Eventually, the council decided to temporarily allow the chickens while the city creates an ordinance and looks into other measures such as requiring permits, limiting the number of chickens and detailing under what circumstances they would need to be removed under a new ordinance. 

The motion to allow the chickens until a new ordinance can be considered received three “yes” votes from Josten, Hendrickson and Koehn, while members Peggy Lane and Randy Henning voted “no.” 

The issue will be revisited at future council meetings.

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