by Tony E. Rutherford, News Editor
CORRECTED: Gun Carrying by Animal Control, Code Enforcement Discussed at Huntington Council Work Session
File PHoto

City officials empowered to carry weapons became a discussion topic during the Thursday, Nov. 9 work session of Huntington City Council. The topic surface during the Good and Welfare portion, after councilwoman Tina Brooks  suggested that Code Enforcement Representatives of the Public Works Department carry firearms on duty for personal safety. Brooks revealed that following three months of discussion Cabell Wayne Animal Control officers now carry guns.

Brooks" suggestion admittedly  preliminary revved Second Amendment rights and which city employees carry weapons in the line of duty i.e. outside of the Huntington Police Department.

With "things happening in society today, they (code enforcement) don't know what they are facing" when they approach someone's door, Brooks said.

District 2 councilman Charlie McComas agreed with Brppls.

Noting that code enforcement officers engage in what is already likely an "aggravated .. and dangerous situation, I would support them carrying a gun."

Chairman Mark Bates added, "they can stumble into a bad situation."

However, Tonia Page, who represents the Fairfield section of the city where a 'shots fired' incident led to issues at a youth football game, expressed a contrasting opinion.

"[There are] too many guns out there already. It hurts our police department. Some gun are already longer (larger) than (carried) by the police department," Page said. Referring to citizen's concealed carry, he added, "Sometimes people hurt people because they are afraid (of someone), yet they have no reason. But a gun is pulled and used."

Page continued, "If everybody (carried) a gun and started shooting, it would have been an all out war," referring to the incident near the youth football playing field.


Mayor Steve Williams twice interjected significant points into the off hand discussion by council members.

After City Attorney Scott Damron opined that code enforcement weapon carriage would be an "insurance issue," the Mayor explained that Animal Control is considered a "law enforcement function" which allows them to "carry a weapon." By contrast, code enforcement had "traditionally" been  under the Public Works Department.

Williams speculated that "maybe if code enforcement was under HPD," they could carry a weapon. But under Public Works, "maybe not so."

The Mayor told council the public discussion was premature. He suggested that council members ask him personally about compliance officers classified as public works in a conversation "not under the glare of public lights," referring to this discussion was in public , televised and in front of reporters.

The discussion drifted to the Texas church shooting and speculation concerning the safety of council members during meetings.

Councilwoman Brooks revealed that she does have a weapon at the meetings. "We don't want to be shot at like in church," she said.

McComas added, "If someone came in here shooting, I'd rather know that people (in the audience) have guns."

Councilwoman Joyce Clark stressed, "I'd rather know that (members of) the Huntington Police Department are here with guns (at the meetings) and they have had training."

Ms. Page , though, said, "We don't want people to carry guns in here. We don't want anyone  to be shot in here [council chambers]."

The issue of guns inside public buildings has previously been discussed, but no action taken. However, the subject centered on allegedly disruptive public speakers.

Mayor Williams intervened at the Thursday, Nov. 9 work session before it strayed too far into Second Amendment debates. Indicating that public discussion was premature on code enforcement carrying weapons, he explained that the topic must include a conversation including council, Huntington Police Department, finance department, and other administration members.

"We welcome opinion on policy," Williams stated. He referred to the 1985 Huntington City Charter which placed the ultimate decision as belonging to the mayor.

"It's set by charter. Until we would go to a city manager plan, only one person makes that decision (the mayor)."

Recalling the animal control decision, "we had a three month discussion." On code enforcement concealed carry, Williams welcomes ideas and advice, but stated that a decision will be made after we "come together, review, talk with council, talk with finance , discuss insurance (factors) and training.

Following these conversations, "I'll make a judgment accordingly, " inferring that the "legislative body will review it and voice their opinion. But I'll make the (final) judgment to go that route (code enforcement weapon carriage)."

On other matters, Chairman Bates indicated that he would forward bow and arrow deer hunting consideration to Alex Vence, chairman of the Public Safety Committee, for a possible public hearing. Bates opined that a possible approval scenario would allow first responders to with permission go on private property to thin the deer population.

At large council woman Carol Polan recalled that the Public Safety Committee discussed urban deer hunting and population control, but the proposal failed to gain a majority vote for referral to the full council.

"We dd not see where the fund would come from," Polan said, explaining a non-lethal solution where deer would be lured into eating a contraceptive to prevent further reproduction.

Council woman Jennifer Wheeler  noted that downtown Huntington's McKenzie Dow showroom opposite Pullman Square had a VIP visitor.  She said that the owner of the Boston Red Sox flew in his private plane to visit the showroom recently. 

RESOLUTIONS

Resolutions on the agenda for Monday attracted no discussion.

They include non-matching Homeland Security Grants for replacing aging body armor , tactical team , computers and other items for the police , as well as a $124,000 grant so that the Big Sandy Superstore Arena can install magnetometers and purchase hand wands to protect patrons coming to the facility.

Other approvals relate to budgeted  sidewalk replacement in three locations, the funds for one of which come from a donation. Disability curb cuts are included.

Council meets at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 13.

PRIOR to the council meeting, the Administration/Finance committee meets at 6:30 p.m. Their agenda includes the fall paving project, an amendment to CDBG funding, and , a likely discussion (made by Bates at the work session) to consider the most recent financial report received by council members.