Politics Blog

Bellingham council talks smoking in playgrounds, tagging cats

Whatcom Humane Society Executive Director Laura Clark holds Selma, a kitten up for adoption at the shelter June 17, 2013. Outgoing Bellingham City Council member Jack Weiss said he’d like to require cat owners to license their cats, raising money for the shelter’s spay and neurter program as well as caring for abandoned, lost or feral cats.
Whatcom Humane Society Executive Director Laura Clark holds Selma, a kitten up for adoption at the shelter June 17, 2013. Outgoing Bellingham City Council member Jack Weiss said he’d like to require cat owners to license their cats, raising money for the shelter’s spay and neurter program as well as caring for abandoned, lost or feral cats. The Bellingham Herald

If future discussions go his way, outgoing Bellingham City Council member Jack Weiss might be able to cross a few items off his legislative bucket list.

During a special meeting Monday evening, June 8, Weiss quickly briefed the other members on three things he’d like to accomplish before he leaves office at the end of the year: A smoking ban on all city properties, requiring cat owners to license their cats, and forming a commission to review the salaries of the city’s elected officials.

“I tried to whittle down the 37 items I had on my list,” he told the other council members and city staff at the meeting. “It had more to do with trying to come up with things knowing we have budgetary issues and staffing issues. I wanted to choose items I thought were doable that would make some sort of difference in the community.”

Though Weiss said he just wanted to see whether or not the issues would be worth bringing forward to talk about at future meetings, the discussion gave an early glimpse into how a few of the members felt about the various proposals.

“The cat one I have no interest whatsoever in working on,” council member Terry Bornemann said. “I’m not discussing the merits, I just have no interest in that and all the backlash.”

For those of you scratching your heads, the city already requires all dog owners to license their dog with the Whatcom County Humane Society and pay an annual fee, whether or not that dog leaves the house.

At the request of the humane society, Weiss could propose the council extend a similar requirement to cat owners. It would bring in extra cash to support the humane society’s work with spaying and neutering, as well as caring for abandoned, lost or feral cats.

The smoking ordinance could expand the city’s current ban on smoking in buildings to also include smoking on trails, in parks, and in other city-owned spaces, Weiss explained. The goal would be to reduce litter and negative impacts on the health and safety of other users.

“I think there is an increase in smoking in parks, on trails and in outdoor spaces,” city Parks Director James King said during the meeting. “We’ve chased them out of the buildings, so now they’re in the parks. The biggest place we get complaints is playgrounds. There’s no code that says you can’t smoke in a playground.”

The ban could be “self-enforced” with signs and people holding one another accountable, King said.

Council member Pinky Vargas said she would be willing to discuss some type of ban around playgrounds, but also would want to make sure parents who do smoke could stand a reasonable distance away, within eyesight.

“I don’t want them to stop taking their kids to the park because they can’t have a smoke,” Vargas said.

Both issues will likely move forward to separate council committees for further discussion.

The council could also look at forming a salary commission, likely after Weiss’s time on the council is over.

“After seeing what happened at the county and the recommendations that came out of their commission, it seemed to me it was an appropriate thing the city should do as well,” Weiss said.

In addition to seeing a need to raise the mayor’s salary, which could mean other department heads would get salary increases as well, Weiss said he also wondered if the council members were paid enough, especially after none of the council seats on this year’s ballot received challengers.

“For me, I look at it as being it might be everybody running for council this year was doing such a good job nobody wanted to go and pull the trigger to do that, but it could also be that this job pays crap, and it doesn’t really justify wanting to get involved,” he said. “It is a disincentive.”

Council members are paid a $24,108 salary.

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