The effort by members of the Gilbert City Council to push forward an ordinance change regarding barnyard animals is raising more questions than answers. An amended ordinance reading showed up on the council’s agenda earlier this month and with very little reasoning behind its sudden appearance.
Since that time, we’ve learned enough about the situation to know its a bad deal.
According to city officials, the issue began a few years ago involving the son of Councilor Bob Pontinen, who had neighbors with farm animals, and eventually moved away. They left about 40 acres of adjacent land in rural Gilbert that a party is now interested in purchasing to keep horses.
The timing of this effort to change the city ordinance reeks.
Currently, the city ordinance in Gilbert doesn’t allow for farm animals on platted land. Basically, that’s within the city proper, and generally meant to keep chickens out of the urban areas.
This is a very different situation, as the potential buyer — along with the Spiering family, a 17-year resident not associated with this land — want to live in Gilbert and own horses. Those are taxpaying citizens of the city, on large, mostly-valuable slabs of land that pay property taxes directly to the Gilbert’s coffers.
So why is the city so quick to implement this change after seemingly very little public outcry?
The answer is that Councilor Pontinen appears to be crossing an ethical line with his position on the council. By being a main voice behind changing this ordinance, which would essentially outlaw barnyard animals in urban and rural areas, he’s using his elected political position to further a personal and family gain. And it isn’t right.
If the councilor’s wife — who was also allowed to abruptly interrupt Monday’s special meeting, a perk other residents are rarely afforded — has the 40 signatures of neighboring residents for this change, then the city should hear from them, and not just the Pontinen family. The city should also then hear from neighbors to the Spiering family, which has shown up to oppose changing the ordinance because their land would not be grandfathered into the new laws.
The response Julie Spiering has received the city, or more specifically the Pontinens is that they can take their horses and move to Fayal Township.
If barnyard animals in rural Gilbert are truly an issue, the city and the public need to hear it for themselves. As it stands, we agree with Councilor Corey Bol, who has heard very few complaints and has concerns himself over the “hush-hush” nature of this ordinance change, and how it may only benefit a select few Gilbert residents.
An honest discussion needs to take place in public.
We suggest this: Gilbert officials should consider researching other cities’ ordinances to find the right match. Take Hibbing, for example, which bases animal ownership on acreage because its city limits extend far into rural pockets of the region.
If Mayor Beth Milos is worried about a hog farm moving in next to families, the city can craft language to prevent industrial operations from making their home there.
The council should also, as Bol suggested in his comments to the Mesabi Daily News on Wednesday, finish more pressing old business, like the emergency response plan, before rushing through something new and quite impactful.
Lastly, if a vote comes up on this change to the animal ordinance, Councilor Pontinen should recuse himself. Through his comments and actions, and those of his family, it is becoming more and more clear he is not acting for the majority of Gilbert residents.
Instead, he appears to be furthering a family issue and using his political power to do so.