There's nothing "exotic" -- as in intriguing -- about a reptile that escapes from its owner's care and terrorizes a neighborhood, just as there isn't anything musical about the eardrum-shattering noise that emanates from a car stereo. And there certainly isn't any environmental benefit to be derived from high grass and debris-strewn yards and vacant lots.
If something contributes to the deterioration of a community's quality of life, responsible government officials have no choice but to eliminate it. Thus, the trustees in Austintown Township are seeking to prohibit residents from keeping exotic animals or reptiles in their residences, force drivers to turn down their stereos and ensure that high grass is cut and yards and vacant lots are cleaned up.
On Monday, trustees David Ditzler, Warren "Bo" Pritchard and Richard Edwards gave first reading to an ordinance that would impose a fine of up to $1,000 on any resident who keeps an exotic animal as a pet in a residential area. The measure would also require owners of dangerous or vicious dogs to keep their animals restrained. Dog owners would be prohibited from allowing their pets to make loud noise for more than five minutes between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. and for more than 10 minutes from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
"Spencer," the infamous green, 6-foot-long caiman (a member of the crocodile family) can take credit for this ordinance. He escaped from the Stanford Avenue home of Carl Fisher in August after falling from a second-story window. Spencer was captured by two police officers, but not before he sent a scare through the neighborhood.
Some Stanford residents have voiced fear that he might escape again, now that he has experienced freedom, and attack their families.
The 10-page legislation, the first developed by the trustees since they adopted home rule on March 11, can be reviewed at the township hall on Ohltown Road. Ditzler, Pritchard and Edwards could vote on final passage at their July 22 meeting.
Austintown residents should take advantage of the review period not only to educate themselves on the legislative process available through the limited form of self-government, but to get the facts about the exotic-pet ordinance and the other measures that have been discussed.
It is also an opportunity for the people of Austintown to weigh the pros and cons of home rule, especially in light of a petition drive to put the issue on the November general election ballot.
Home-rule townships are not the same as cities, which have taxing powers. Trustees have limited authority and can only pass laws aimed at ensuring the health, safety and welfare of the residents. Home rule does not open the door to dictatorial government.