Suiting up for a fight

It’s not every day you see a fully grown man pass out easter candy in a chicken suit during a government meeting. I’ve been to several hundred in my life – and this was a first. 

But the man in the chicken suit should give you an idea of the atmosphere in the Valparaiso City Commission Chambers at the beginning of Monday Night’s meeting. 

The majority (more than half, but less than two-thirds) of the live studio audience came to talk chickens with the city commission. 

Between February and March’s meeting a proposed ordinance to allow up to six chickens (and no roosters) was placed on the Valparaiso Commission’s agenda by a group of citizens led by Missy Reeh-Weakley.

man in a chicken suit hands out candy at a Valparaiso city commission meeting
Valparaiso city resident Daniel Irwin hands out "Easter Candy" in a chicken suit before the Valpariso City Commission Meeting on March 13th. A crowd of about 40 came to the meeting in support of a change to the city's chicken ordinance.
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Accusations of fowl play

A combative mood dampened the room as soon as the meeting reached the proposed ordinance. Upon announcing the commission would hear out the proposed ordinance, Mayor Brent Smith asked both the pro and anti-chicken lobbies present to choose two to three representatives to speak for their sides. “We’ll probably have a large crowd of people here tonight, and we don’t want to be here for five minutes per person for thirty to forty people,” Mayor Smith said. Mayor Smith followed up by announcing Reeh-Weakley, the petition drive organizer would be the only representative allowed to speak on the subject. 

The request to limit the number of speakers drew ire from members of the ‘pro-chicken’ side of the crowd. Candy Hansard, a longtime resident of Valparaiso came to the podium and addressed the mayor on the subject of the limits. “I believe everyone that showed up today has the right to have their voices heard. I don’t think that [limiting the number of speakers] is nice. I don’t think it’s right. And I don’t think that you should shut up your own citizens and tell them that ‘they came out, they made time to be here and they cannot have their voices heard.’ I don’t think that’s right, Mayor Smith.”

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crowd looks on in a Valparaiso City Commission MEeting
Valparaiso residents Missy Reeh-Weakley and Candy Hansard look on as the City Commission discusses its chicken ordinance.

Valparaiso City Attorney Hayward Dykes responded to Hansard by telling her that the chair of the meeting (Mayor Smith) was able to place “reasonable parameters on public comments.”

Hansard responded by turning around and asking the crowd how many people were in the gallery that evening to make their opinion known about the chickens – then accused Smith of changing his mind on the issue. Hansard claimed Mayor Smith had favored allowing chickens inside city limits before his re-election last March. 

After Hansard left the podium, Reeh-Weakley came up to make her arguments to the commission. “My big sister voted for you,” Reeh-Weakley said as she pointed to Mayor Smith, “now she regrets voting for you.”

“That’s fine,” Mayor Smith responded. Reeh-Weakley then accused the mayor of changing his mind on the issue after speaking to Hansard at Lowe’s (🤷). She then accused Smith of having his family members harrass her online – a claim he denied by saying that the person she named as her harasser was not blood-related to him. 

After settling he-said-she-said at Lowe’s – Reeh-Weakley made her arguments to the board. They were as follows:

  • The cities of Crestview, Fort Walton Beach, Destin, and Mary Esther allow chickens within city limits. 
  • Reeh-Weakley claims Crestview Animal Control told her “they spend well under 10% of their time dealing with anything related to chickens.”
  • Reeh-Weakley claimed the “Okaloosa Tax Assessor’s office” told her having chickens on a property “makes no difference at all whatsoever.” (There is an Okaloosa Property Appraisers Office and an Okaloosa Tax Collectors office, I’m not sure which she meant.)
  • The chickens are no louder than the jets taking off and landing at Eglin Air Force Base daily. 

“I’m not going to stop. We’ll keep coming back,” Reeh-Weakley told the Commission, “we’ll keep coming back and this crowd will double and triple and quadruple. This is what the people want.”

“I’m not going to stop. We’ll keep coming back,” Weakley told the Commission, “we’ll keep coming back and this crowd will double and triple and quadruple. This is what the people want.”

two men sitting at a dais
Valparaiso City Attorney Hayward Dykes (Left) speaks while Mayor Brent Smith looks on during a conversation at Valparaiso City Commission's March Meeting.

You chicken?

After Reeh-Weakley’s time ended and she returned to her seat, Mayor Smith asked the commission if anyone wanted to make a motion to change the city’s current ordinance. Smith waited for about 10 seconds before announcing the chicken ordinance dead for lack of a motion. 

“We’ve heard all we want to about chickens,” Smith said while several audience members clapped to support the commission. 

Despite his statement, Okaloosa County Republican Party Chairwoman Sandra Atkinson spoke briefly to the commission about the decision not to change the ordinance. “I think it’s more about freedom,” Adkinson said, “It’s also to help poor people and teach children.”

Reverend Doctor Matthew Owen Williams came to the podium immediately after the failure of the motion to praise the commissioners’ decision to hold fast to the ordinance. “I’m a taxpayer here,” Williams said in response to Atkinson’s comments, “just like every other HOA in America – we’ve got rules, you gotta keep them.”

Retorts came in response to Williams’s simile – to which he responded, “you don’t pay taxes here.”

A flightless bird - at least for now.

This issue can technically never die – as long as someone wants to advocate for it continually – and the commission will allow it on the agenda. But the ordinance will not change locally until a commissioner or the mayor makes a motion, it’s seconded and adopted by a majority vote.  

The only other option for the pro-chicken group would be to lobby for and have passed a law at the state level which takes away cities and counties’ rights to regulate chickens within their jurisdiction. Currently, no such bills are up for consideration by the Florida State Legislature for this session to accomplish that mission. 

For now, Valparaiso will not allow chickens in city limits.

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