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AUSTINTOWN Neighbors endure reptile residents



Published: Tue, August 14, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Without home rule, trustees say they don't have the right to remove the crocodilians from the house.

By IAN HILL

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

AUSTINTOWN -- For now, Debbie Villers will continue to live next door to two members of the crocodile family.

The two caimans are kept as pets in a home on Stanford Avenue. Township trustees said Monday that they don't have the power to remove the caimans -- Central and South American reptiles similar to alligators -- from the home.

Villers and several of her neighbors were at the trustees' meeting Monday to express their concerns about the caimans. About 40 local residents attended.

"It's just scary," Villers said.

Trustees and Police Chief Gordon Ellis said that the Ohio Revised Code does not include any regulations dealing with exotic animals. As a result, they said they do not have the power to remove the caimans.

Litigation suggested: Trustee Bo Pritchard suggested the residents sue Carl Fisher, the owner of the caimans, or ask the state Legislature to pass laws dealing with exotic animals.

"What can you do? Get together and hire an attorney," Pritchard said. "I'm not telling you you'll be successful, but at least you'll be doing something."

Township Administrator Michael Dockry said trustees are waiting for the Mahoning County Prosecutor's Office to issue an opinion on the caimans.

A 6-foot-long caiman named Spencer escaped from the Stanford Avenue home Wednesday by crawling out of a second-story window. He was captured by Fisher and two police officers.

Area residents said they want Spencer and his 3-foot-long housemate out of their neighborhood.

Pritchard and the other trustees said they would be able to remove the caimans if township voters approved a form of limited self-government called home rule.

Home rule would give trustees the authority to enact ordinances limiting the ability of local residents to keep exotic animals as pets. Under home rule, trustees also could pass resolutions aimed at solving health, safety and sanitation problems.

Defeated: Township voters have defeated home rule each of the three times it has appeared on the ballot.

"We do not have the authority. We have asked the residents of this township for the authority three different times," Pritchard said.

Stanford Avenue resident Linda Chechitelli said she expected the trustees to say they didn't have the power to remove the caimans.

Both Chechitelli and Villers said they would need more information on home rule before they decide if they would support it.

"If it's the only way to get rid of the alligators, I guess I would vote for it," Chechitelli said.

When asked what action she would take next, Villers said, "I guess we sit back and wait."

hill@vindy.com




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