AUSTINTOWN Loose gator renews home rule debate

The escaped alligator spent an hour lounging on rocks in front of the home.
AUSTINTOWN -- A 6-foot-long alligator named Spencer crawled out of a second-story window, fell about nine feet and reopened the debate over limited self-government in this township.
Spencer is the larger of two alligators kept as pets at 5647 Stanford Ave. Owner Carl Fisher was not cited, police said.
Area residents say they weren't aware the alligators are kept in the home until Spencer escaped and spent about an hour lounging on rocks in front of the home.
Township police officers eventually captured Spencer on Wednesday afternoon and placed him back in the home. Spencer's owner is now out of the country and couldn't be reached Friday.
Area residents say they want Spencer and his 3-foot-long housemate out of their neighborhood.
"We certainly don't need animals like that out here," said Jacklyn Mixon of Stanford Avenue. "Look at all the kids we have in this neighborhood."
Stanford resident Cheryl Evans added, "If you have children and you live here, would you want this thing next to you?"
Township officials, however, said their hands are tied because the township does not have limited self-government.
"Without home rule, we can take no action," Police Chief Gordon Ellis said.
Trustees: Home rule would give township trustees the ability to enact ordinances limiting the ability of local residents to keep exotic animals as pets. Under home rule, the trustees also could pass resolutions aimed at solving health, safety and sanitation problems.
Currently township officials can enforce only ordinances described in the Ohio Revised Code, which does not include a section on exotic animals.
Township voters have defeated home rule each of the three times it has appeared on the ballot.
Stanford Avenue resident Debbie Villers said Spencer's escape hasn't changed her feelings on home rule.
"I don't want someone like that making rules," she said of the township trustees. Villers runs a day-care center in the home next-door to 5647 Stanford Ave.
Villers said she is asking her neighbors to express their concerns about the alligators at Monday's trustees' meeting. The meeting will be at 7 p.m. in the township offices.
Mixon said she plans to attend.
"If he could get out once, who's to say he couldn't get out again?" she said.
The escape: On Wednesday, police were called to Stanford Avenue at about 2 p.m. by Detective Sgt. Frank Tomasino, who lives two doors down from 5647 Stanford Avenue. Tomasino said he heard Spencer fall from the window.
Two officers arrived at the home and called Spencer's owner at work. He later helped the officers bind Spencer's mouth shut with duct tape.
Spencer bit his owner on the hand during the struggle.
Some Stanford Avenue residents say they are now taking extra safety precautions as a result of Spencer's escape. Villers joked that she zigzags when she walks to avoid escaped alligators.
Mixon, meanwhile, said she tries not to go outside.
"I'm afraid to go out in my yard," she said.

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