White Pine, TN considering repeal of 26-year-old pit bull ban

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Bless the Bullys

The small town of White Pine, TN is considering repealing their long-standing pit bull ordinance which was enacted in 1988. An individual recently moved to White Pine with a dog that meets the physical characteristics of a “pit bull” as defined by the ordinance,  unaware of the 26-year-old law, and was cited by police. That resident brought the issue of repeal to the city council.

Section 10-301 of the city code defines “pit bull dogs” as follows:

Pit Bull Dogs:

(1) The bull terrier breed of dog; and (2) Staffordshire bull terrier breed of dog; and (3) The American pit bull terrier breed of dog; and (4) The American Staffordshire terrier breed of dog; and (5) Dogs of mixed breed or of other breeds than above listed which breed or mixed breed is known as pit bulls, pit bull dogs or pit bull terriers; and (6) Any dog which has the appearance and characteristics of being predominantly of the breeds of bull terrier, Staffordshire bull terrier, American pit bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier; and any other breed commonly known as pit bulls, pit bull dogs or pit bull terriers; or a combination of any of these breeds.

I spoke with the Town Recorder yesterday, and prior to the formal move by the council to review the ordinance, city officials were already aware of the problems associated with the existing ordinance, specifically the difficulty of identifying what is or is not a pit bull dog.

Fortunately, the town’s police chief supports repealing the ban. He believes each case needs to be looked at individually, and that to “pinpoint a specific breed is not the right way to go.”

The city is researching new measures, and according to the Town Recorder, are leaning strongly toward deleting the breed specific language in their current ordinance, and relying on the breed-neutral vicious dog provision already on the books.  That provision identifies dangerous dogs by their actions and behaviors, not their breed.

A study session to discuss this issue will be held in April.

White Pine is a very small town with less than 2,500 people residing there.  Considering residents and city officials are working well together on this issue, in my opinion, outside intervention is not necessary at this time.  Certainly if you live in or around White Pine, I encourage you to reach out to the city officials and let them know you support this move, and encourage them to repeal the 26-year-old ban and judge dogs on their individual behavior as opposed to their breed.

White Pine ponders pit bull ordinance changes

BY GAYLE PAGE – Staff Writer

Members of White Pine’s town council tackled a couple of thorny subjects during Tuesday’s meeting.

The first issue was in follow-up to last month’s work session in which the idea of amending the city ordinance related to pit bull dogs was proposed. Council invited Jeremy Sellers, Jefferson County’s Animal Control Officer, to speak to this issue from his own experience.

Sellers told council members he relies on statistics because statistics are objective. They clearly support the fact that pit bulls have a propensity toward violence that is inherent in the breed. In his nearly two years of experience with animal control, Sellers says he has seen a lot of destruction caused by the pit bull breed – citing a recent case in Dandridge where a pit bull dog breeched two sturdy fences to get in and savagely attack and kill a defenseless young kangaroo.

That was the dog’s final act because the kangaroo’s owner managed to shoot and kill the vicious dog. According to Sellers, its owner has never even shown up to make reparations.

Sellers said pit bulls cause repetitive problems. Owners often ignore laws and refuse to comply, even when cited. “Thankfully we haven’t had one get a child,” said Sellers, leaving the word “yet” hanging in the air.

It was requested last month that town attorney Larry Churchwell investigate to see how surrounding communities handled this matter. Apparently, both Dandridge and Jefferson City have recently revised their statutes, replacing the specific word “pit bulls” with the words “vicious dogs.”

White Pine Mayor Stanley Wilder was in favor of making a similar amendment to White Pine’s ordinance against pit bulls. However, Attorney Churchwell stressed the importance of retaining the insurance requirement in an amended ordinance. Owners of vicious dogs will have to show proof of $100,000 worth of liability insurance, which could cover personal injuries caused by the dog.

The amended ordinance will be adapted to fit White Pine and then will be presented for approval on two different readings.

Councilman Fred Taylor and Councilwoman Ann Strom were against amending the ordinance. Taylor reiterated his feeling that pit bulls have a propensity to be dangerous, while Strom said if it must be done, she hopes police officers will patrol neighborhoods where potentially dangerous dogs are housed, and act expeditiously in the event they encounter any problems.

Beer permit debated

Action taken by White Pine’s Beer Board was not totally without a little discord.

Gordon Pack, former town council and beer board member, has for the past 33 years owned the “Easy Inn Market” on Roy Messer Highway. Pack says he never wanted to sell beer in his store, but at 77, he is beginning to contemplate retirement, and says whenever he discusses the possibility of selling the store to someone, their first question is whether he can sell beer.

So Pack came before the Beer Board applying for a beer license. He explained that his store was 585 feet from the school, and 110 feet from the nearest house. The state has certain distance guidelines related to beer sales and the proximity of churches, schools, and parks. It has placed an arbitrary number of 2000 feet, but permits counties to be somewhat more subjective when deciding on distances for their own municipality.

Pack was under the impression that when the beer board allowed Food City to sell beer, the town had set some sort of precedent, shortening the distance requirement for beer outlets. Pack thought that meant they could shorten it even more on his behalf, and if they did not choose to do so, the matter would automatically require litigation in court. He believed he could sue for discrimination and win because of the precedent.

Churchwell tried to explain that no precedent had been set and that the town had the discretion – the plenary authority – to create a municipal ordinance with distance requirements.

That is not to say council opposed Pack’s request for a license. There was the matter of the store’s distance from Lions Park, and no one knew the exact measurements from building to building (using the park’s refreshment stand as a reference). So, it was decided to postpone any decision until they found out the exact distance measurement, and take up the issue again at the June Beer Board meeting.

Pack said he would only sell hot beer so his customers wouldn’t be popping tops and drinking while going down the road.

Part-time city manager

The board had discussed the GSA Consulting Services contract during the work session, and despite a plea from Glen Warren who objected to the town employing a part-time city manager, council voted unanimously to approve the contract.

Warren also requested that Pickin’ in the Pines be allowed to continue on Tuesday evenings at the Ruritan Building where Parks & Recreation coordinated it before. Council had no objection.

Council also approved Ordinance #01-14 amending the municipal code for court costs on its second reading.

Laura Crider, a White Pine resident, asked who was responsible for the street in front of the downtown merchants. The mayor explained that the city had tried to take over the street and would have made improvements to it once it became city property, but evidently the business owners refused to give it up. It is a frequently-used thoroughfare that runs through the center of downtown and complaints have been made about damage to automobiles.

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