It was the type of announcement that separates the city councils who take the winter holidays seriously from those who are, well, Scrooges.
“Every year we have beautification awards,” explained a representative from the Parks and Recreation Department. “People can call in houses they see around town that they really like the way they’re decorated.”
She added, “our Parks and Rec Advisory Board also goes out and are each assigned a section of town. They kind of score all the houses. The top five point-getters were the ones we give awards to tonight.”
With that, the five chosen families strolled to the front of the chamber for a photo. Many of them sported some type of seasonal attire–from the more discreet Santa pin and St. Nick hat to the more flashy necklace of Christmas lights and festive sweaters.
If you were expecting this Yuletide cheer to be followed by three French hens, two turtle doves, or even six geese a-laying, city attorney Jon Kingsepp disappointed you–but only slightly–by talking instead about backyard chickens.
“Fifty years ago, they were barnyard animals. Dinner table items. That’s no longer the case,” he explained.
“Chickens are great in most cases, unless you’re a neighbor that doesn’t want chickens next door to you,” Mayor Debbie Wooley observed dryly.
Kingsepp sighed. “There are two ways to look at that. There’s one that can say, ‘I don’t like chickens next to me because they’re loud and they’re gonna attract vermin.’ The other approach is, ‘if you like cats and dogs next door, then what is the difference with chickens?’ The noise level of a chicken is extremely low.”
“I want zero” chickens, shot back Council Member Paula Millan. “Not because I don’t like people’s chickens but because I don’t want them in my backyard. I just don’t.”
She paused. Although her reaction was intense, it was not, in fact, poultryphobic. “I don’t think it’s the animal that’s really the problem,” she admitted. “I would assume it’s most likely the owner. If you have a neighbor that cares only about themselves and not the people around them, there’s an issue.”
A woman in the front row seized on a lull in the discussion and launched into a tutorial on chicken care. Rather than cut her off, surprisingly, the mayor allowed a microphone to be passed down.
“Great pets,” she boasted of her own chickens. “No one ever knew we had ’em. My aviary was spotless. The rats cannot get into it.
“There are rats in our neighborhood. A lot of ’em. But they never came for my chickens.”
A posse of women from the earlier home decorating contest were sitting two rows back in their Christmas sweaters nodding vigorously.
“My grandchildren–24 grandchildren–played with those chickens like a puppy. They were very sweet,” she argued, while one of those 24 grandchildren slumped in his chair next to her asleep.
Chickens may have been quiet and kind. Heck, they could have been the cure to cancer. But Council Member Millan was immovable.
“Some of my neighbors have been on our block since they built their homes in 1967. They don’t want chickens in their backyard,” she insisted. “Their perception is not that they are pets.
“It’s not against the animal. It’s about, ‘I moved to a city. Didn’t move to a farm. Where’s it gonna end?'”
She shrugged. “We have to address the ‘where’s it gonna end’ thing.”
Perhaps next year, Clawsonians can decorate an aviary and win the beautification contest. Then people might realize that chickens can be family, not food.