By Michael Howell
Following the passage of a new weapons ordinance in Stevensville that prohibited the carrying of guns in all Town Parks with the exception of River Park, Mayor Gene Mim Mack vetoed that portion of the ordinance, basically removing all restrictions on carrying guns in any of the parks.
While the weapons ordinance, following the Mayor’s veto, does allow both open and permitted concealed carrying of guns in all the parks, other prohibitions contained in the ordinance remain in effect. The ordinance currently prohibits carrying any weapons, open carry or concealed, into any municipally owned buildings, public assemblies or schools. State law prohibits carrying weapons into banks or other financial institutions, state and municipal government buildings and public assemblies, and places where alcohol is sold and consumed.
Asked why the ordinance prohibited guns in the parks in the first place, Councilor Bill Perrin said that it involved the question of alcohol being served in the park and the state law prohibiting guns where alcohol is consumed.
Vernon Weiss commented as a member of the public, saying that language prohibiting guns in the beer garden could address the issue. He also raised concerns about the prohibition against carrying weapons into a public building since the restroom facilities in the park are public buildings. He said a responsible gun carrier could not leave his gun outside the bathroom unattended.
The prohibition of carrying guns into a public assembly was also questioned. One citizen wondered if it meant no one could carry guns in the Western Days parade. The mayor clarified that the definition of “public assembly” contained in the ordinance applies to governing bodies such as the Town Council, or other government entities that are meeting in order to make deliberations and decisions. It does not apply to parades or other public gatherings.
Councilor Robin Holcomb said, “I don’t understand why we are doing a law on top of a law. Why don’t we just get rid of it and go by state and federal law.”
Mim Mack said that there were a few reasons for adopting the local ordinance. He said the first was so that misdemeanor issues could be taken care of locally. He said, if charged under state law, it goes to court in Hamilton which is often an inconvenience for everyone involved. Secondly, he said, any fines collected would stay in the municipality and go to fund the local police department. He said it was the same reasons that almost every town in Montana has adopted its own ordinances.
“We are not doing anything special here. Every town in Montana does it,” said the Mayor.
Jimmy Canton wondered why the Town couldn’t simply adopt state law verbatim as a local ordinance.
Mim Mack said that the current ordinance does differ from state law in one regard now in that it prohibits open carry in public assemblies. It is a power granted to municipalities in state law. He said the Council decided to prohibit all guns, open or concealed, in public assemblies due to “public safety concerns.”
Councilor Bill Perrin said that was correct and went on to say that he was alright with the veto that would allow guns in the parks, although he was a bit uncomfortable with the open carry. He said it makes some people feel intimidated, maybe even frightened to see someone carrying a gun.
Perrin moved to confirm the mayor’s veto. Both Councilors Desera Towle and Holcomb voted against confirmation. Towle believes in having restrictions on weapons in the parks. Holcomb voted no, saying, “I feel we should go by state law.”
Although the vote was two to one against the motion, it failed because a two-thirds vote of the whole council is required to overturn a veto. Councilor Ron Klaphake was absent and did not vote.
A second agenda item, which called for consideration of an unspecified amendment to the ordinance, was cancelled on advice from the town’s attorney that to amend the ordinance at this point would require initiating the same public notice and public hearing procedures that were followed in passing the recent amended ordinance.
In other business, an amended animal ordinance was adopted on second reading that will allow the raising of rabbits, chickens and ducks within the town limits. The number of animals is limited and certain requirements are imposed concerning the location of coops, cages and other structures.
No more than five rabbits are allowed older than six months unless the property is one acre or larger. No more than six chickens are allowed (roosters are prohibited) unless the property is one acre or larger. The number of ducks cannot exceed six except on an acre or larger.
Minimum specifications for construction of coops for both chickens and ducks are detailed in the ordinance. They must be “predator-proof” and “thoroughly ventilated.” They must also be located no closer than 20 feet from any other residence and no closer than 10 feet from the property line.
An annual permit is required and may be obtained at the Town Hall.
The ordinance also makes it unlawful for anyone’s animal to become a nuisance either through noise or smell from animal waste. It also makes it unlawful for any animal waste to be placed on public or private property not owned by the animal owner or custodian.
Councilor Towle called it “a good compromise.” She and Councilor Perrin voted for the ordinance. Councilor Holcomb voted no without comment. The ordinance passed on the 2 to 1 vote and will go into effect in thirty days.
In consecutive 3 to 0 votes the Council:
- approved on second reading an ordinance incorporating various Airport ordinances, resolutions and policies under Title 4 – Airport of the Municipal Code of the Town of Stevensville;
- approved the Final Resolution of Annexation of the Town’s well field into the town limits;
- approved a Special Event Permit for the annual Creamery Picnic celebration activities;
- approved disposal at auction of several vehicles;
- approved the Capital Improvement Plan for 2012-2017.