East Ridge City Council members said Thursday night they will look into finding a way to grant "amnesty" to Oreo the goat after Jeffery Viar and his two kids made a plea that he be spared.
And in other action, the council voted unanimously to exempt all vacant lots - residential and commercial - from paying the $180 per year sanitation fee that is assessed on all parcels in the city.
Also, there was a 3-2 vote to replace the current appointed city court clerk (Joanne Thomas) with an elected clerk beginning with a special election early next year. Ms. Thomas, who had a recent run-in with City Manager Tim Gobble, would be ineligible to run because she lives in Georgia.
The council earlier had voted down a resolution designed to make an exception for pygmy goats and pot-bellied pigs from the city's ban on farm animals, leading the Viar children to get up a petition with some 90 names backing Oreo.
After Mr. Viar told the council that his children had raised Oreo and couldn't understand why he had to go, Vice Mayor Larry Sewell asked if Oreo "can be grandfathered." He said he has found that many East Ridge residents "don't want this goat to go, but they also don't want a goat living next to them."
Mr. Viar said all his neighbors are fond of Oreo, and he said the earlier complaint about the pet goat was apparently brought by someone who was "just driving through and may not even live in East Ridge."
Councilman Jim Bethune, who said his next-door neighbor earlier had been given seven days to get rid of a goat, said, "I don't think you can grandfather a goat." He said he also was pulling for Oreo, but he said he wouldn't know how to explain it to his neighbor who lost his goat. "I stood and watched their kids cry in the driveway. They were the same ages as these kids," he said.
City Attorney John Anderson said he doesn't know if you can make such an exception or not, but he promised to look into it prior to the next council meeting in two weeks.
Mr. Gobble noted that if Oreo gets a waiver, then the East Ridge owners of pigs "Belle" and "Fat Boy" may want equal treatment.
On the sanitation issue, the commission was again hammered by complaints about the fee, which before was on the water bill and went to all residents with water service.
One woman said she owns multiple buildings that have not had anyone in them since April 1997 when she had to start taking care of sick relatives. She said she got a sanitation fee of $1,720.
Judge Arvin Reingold said it's not fair that owners of single-family residences are subsiding those with duplexes and triplexes who are now paying only a single bill.
City Manager Gobble had cautioned about the exemptions, saying the properties also get brush collection and removal of bulk items.
He said the fee was set to bring in $1.6 million based on a full collection. He said the cost of the sanitation service is $1.4 million.
The council was told that taking the fee away eliminates some $150,000 in anticipated income.
Given the fact there will not be a 100-percent collection rate, it is going to be close on whether the cost of the service will be covered, Mr. Gobble said.
Voting in favor of electing a clerk were Mayor Brent Lambert, Vice Mayor Sewell and Councilman Darwin Branam.
Mr. Gobble said there were over $1.9 million in uncollected court fines and fees dating to 2004. He said steps were taken in December of last year to have a collection agency in place to try to recoup some of the money, but he said the clerk's office has still not turned over data to the agency.
He said Judge Reingold two weeks ago said the data could be available the next morning, but Mr. Gobble said, "We haven't gotten it yet."
Judge Reingold denied that there is over $1.9 million in uncollected court fines and fees. "That's not true," he said.