SYRACUSE -- City Councilwoman Karianne Lisonbee, by offering instruction to the planning commission on how to construct a city animal ordinance, has raised ethical questions with the city's legal staff.
While attending a Feb. 21 planning commission meeting, Lisonbee instructed the commission on how to construct language and definitions in the city's animal ordinance as it relates to the harvesting of animals versus animal abuse, according to Mayor Jamie Nagle.
"Rather than wait for it (the proposed ordinance) to come to the council, she is going to the planning commission telling them how it has to be written. And she is telling them in a public meeting," Nagle said.
City Attorney Will Carlson previously instructed the council not to attend the commission meetings, because the council is the commission's appeal authority on planning commission issues, Nagle said.
Nagle said she became concerned and found the action by Lisonbee "to be inappropriate" after the issue was brought to the attention of city staff by the Community Development office.
Lisonbee, when contacted by the Standard-Examiner by email, declined to offer a comment on the record at this time.
But Lisonbee did approach the planning commission at a Feb. 7 meeting in reference to the county animal ordinance incorporating cruelty to animals language, and asked if the commission intended to adopt the county ordinance, without specifying any exceptions in the city's ordinance, according to minutes of that meeting.
"While it is certainly ethically questionable, the illegality is less clear," Carlson said of Lisonbee's actions at the Feb. 21 meeting, in an email to Nagle, copied to City Manager Robert Rice.
Carlson said it would be a violation of the Municipal Officers' and Employees' Ethics Act for an elected official to use or attempt to use their position to further their economic interest, or secure special privileges for themselves or others.
"If the member of the council was allowed to speak on an issue because of the elected status, or if the comments of a member of the council on any issue are given greater weight than other comments simply because of the council member's status, that could be interpreted as using the position to secure special privileges," Carlson said.
But according to Davis County officials, Lisonbee's concerns regarding the definition of animal harvesting versus animal abuse already have been explained to city staff.
"A city council member had heartburn over the issue of animal cruelty in the ordinance. None of the other cities had problems with this definition. I don't understand why this councilman has this issue," Davis County Animal Care and Control Director Clint Thacker said, falling short of mentioning Lisonbee by name.
Davis County oversees animal control for all 15 Davis cities and Hill Air Force Base.
"Killing a chicken for kicks and giggles and killing a chicken for consumption are totally different issues. You must look at the intent of the person," Thacker said in an email he shared with Syracuse City Planner Kent Andersen.
Thacker said it all has to do with the intent. People can kill a chicken to eat it, but if the intent is to slowly kill the fowl by causing it "pain, suffering terror or torment," he said, that would be animal cruelty.
"I have told them three times now it is all about the intent of the individual," Thacker said.
If someone is killing an animal in the most humane way possible to eat the animal, it is not considered animal cruelty, he said.
Andersen said the ordinance will be reviewed by the council in a workshop session at 6 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall. It is not expected to be adopted at that time.
The city has been working to craft a new animal ordinance since September 2011, Andersen said.