You get a chicken. And you get a chicken. And you get a chicken. If you want one, anyway.
Everyone in Davidson County can keep a few chickens in their backyard after the Metro Council voted Tuesday night to eliminate exemptions held eight council districts that had opted out of the 2012 ordinance allowing backyard chickens.
That law allowed people in residential districts to keep backyard chickens for a $25 annual fee, but also allowed eight council districts — 12, 20 and 28 through 33 — to opt-out of the law. The new bill passed Tuesday night, sponsored by Councilwoman Karen Bennett, Councilman Anthony Davis and others, does away with those exemptions — along with removing sunset provisions from the 2012 law — on the basis that backyard chickens have been a success and allowing certain council districts to opt-out of certain laws is bad policy.
Bennett substituted her original bill with a new one Tuesday night, adding a provision that requires applicants for backyard chicken permits to provide a picture or rendering of their hen house, along with the materials used to construct the house.
Before the vote Tuesday, Bennett told members that the numbers showed that backyard chickens have not caused the problems that some feared two years ago.
"245 permits [for backyard chickens] in a two-year period in Davidson County," she said. "And let's look at the true numbers. Dog calls or any other animal calls, for a two-year period now, Davidson County-wide, came to 23,616. I'm going to say that again, 23,616. When we looked at the actual complaints for hens — 175 complaints."
"It was not this horrible thing that we heard from some folks it was going to be," Bennett added.
Bennett lauded backyard chickens as an opportunity to educate children and make one's diet more healthy by avoiding store-bought eggs. She also said the law has paid for itself, with chicken permits bringing in $6,125 over the last two years, and costing $5,024.
Importantly, the law still prohibits roosters and slaughtering, and requires predator-proof enclosures for hens.
Bennett's comments — which were preceded by clucking sounds from several council members — were just the beginning of a half-serious, half-absurd debate that extended the council meeting for more than half an hour.
Councilman Fabian Bedne proposed an amendment that would have preserved exemptions for the original eight council districts (plus Councilman Tony Tenpenny's). At-Large Councilman Ronnie Steine, in what he called his "penance speech" for voting in favor of allowing exemptions two years ago, urged members to vote against the amendment because it was bad policy.
"I would argue that if it's good policy in one place, it's good policy in another place," Steine said.
The debate continued, drawing out some members who rarely speak up at the council's meetings, but rose to defend their districts' exemption from the law. Councilman Jason Potts said that if nearly 25 percent of council districts wanted to be exempted, then it should be allowed. Councilwoman Jacobia Dowell said her constituents were overwhelmingly opposed to backyard chickens.
"As Council Lady Bennett stated, she said in the two years we've had this legislation, it's working," Dowell said. "I couldn't agree more. It is working. It's working for your district and it's working for our district."
But we're still talking about chickens, Dowell said, for much longer than the council discusses some other matters.
"We've spent so much time, it's embarrassing, talking about chickens," she said. "It's quite embarrassing, that we pass millions and millions of dollars worth of legislation every day in five seconds, and yet we spend all this time talking about chickens."
The debate went on, with council members Duane Dominy, Phil Claiborne and Robert Duvall all speaking in favor of continuing to allow exemptions, providing three choice quotes from the evening:
Dominy: "I wish, personally, I had chickens. I would love to have them, myself. In fact, I had a homegrown egg sandwich on the way down here today, from a friend of mine who lives in Wilson County. But that's not my option because I'm elected to represent the district."
Claiborne: "Whether it's good policy or bad policy, we're not here to set policy, we're here to represent the people that elected us to sit in this chamber."
Duvall: "The first people they're going to call when there's a complaint is going to be their councilman, 'you gotta get these animals taken care of, why are they allowing these chickens?' They're not going to call the [Homeowners Association] they're going to call us. Because they think we're ghostbusters or something, that's the kind of calls we get."
Bedne's amendment was defeated 17-20, and the bill eventually passed 30-8.
With chickens taken care of, the council quickly passed two other bills Pith has been following: One "accepting the donation of three Tennessee Walking Horses, “Buck Pass,” “Magic’s Gold Generator (Cash),” and “Snow Rose (Boo),” to the Metropolitan Government for the use and benefit of the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department" and another allowing Sunday beer sales to begin at 10 a.m.