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Going Through the Motions: July 31 & Aug. 1

We attend city council so you don't have to

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In what started as an uneventful Aug. 1 city council meeting, Councilor Jim Motznik took a brief journey back into time. Citing a dire emergency involving animal control, Motznik attempted a series of rare parliamentary maneuvers. He proposed: suspending council's rules; reopening the previous regular council meeting, which had been adjourned 24 hours earlier; un-tabling legislation that had been tabled nearly two months ago; and entering into a contract to euthanize wildlife with a vendor that previously told the city it didn't want the job.

If only Motznik could go back further in time, he could reopen that meeting where he introduced his now-infamous cat-licensing legislation ... maybe he could smack some sense into himself before that whole debate got going.

Why were such machinations necessary? Earlier this year, the Animal Rescue League announced it would no longer house or euthanize stray or wild animals caught by the city's animal-control officers. The group finally reached a contract with the city to house strays. However, it agreed to provide the service for two more months while city employees were trained to take over the job. The city has not assumed its euthanization duties, however, because animal-control officers cannot be cleared to use the euthanizing agent sodium pentobarbital without a veterinarian signing off, and the city has been unable to locate one to do so.

And as of midnight July 31, Motznik warned his colleagues, the agreement had expired and the city no longer had a place to take its wildlife. The city's Animal Control department would no longer pick up raccoons, squirrels, snakes, ground hogs, moose, panthers, elephants and dinosaurs that apparently wreak havoc in area neighborhoods.

Motznik wanted to revive an old bill that would allow the city to enter a euthanization contract with another vendor, Triangle Pet of McKees Rocks. Ordinarily, agreeing to such a measure requires a deliberative process that takes at least a week; Motznik's parliamentary time-traveling was an attempted shortcut around council's rules.

"We have to do this so the public isn't out there facing wildlife alone," Motznik said.

But Councilor Darlene Harris produced a letter from the Rescue League agreeing to extend the deal for another two weeks. And Councilor Bill Peduto pointed out that a two-week window gave council some breathing room: The Triangle Pet contract could be brought up on Aug. 7, debated on Aug. 8, and brought for a final vote on Aug. 13 -- the day before council goes on its summer recess. "There is no emergency that justifies suspending the rules of council," Peduto said.

To suspend council rules, six of the nine councilors are required to vote affirmatively, and Motznik only got four votes. Outside council chambers, Motznik maintained that the public was at risk because "other members of council were not open-minded enough to deal with this issue."

Despite the fact that there is no contract, animal-control officers have been directed to take wildlife to Triangle Pet as of Aug. 1. (City officials have cited an "emergency" situation as reasons for not inking a contract first.) Gerald Akrie, an animal-control officer and union steward, told City Paper after the meeting that "management has been dragging its feet," in preparing to take over euthanasia duties. Akrie said there are methods of euthanasia other than sodium pentobarbital, but no research had been done in two months. Look for the issue to be debated more fully as council's Aug. 14 vacation draws near.

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