He’s not done trying to fix what he sees as an obvious wrong.
“You have the six votes. I mean, you guys can keep it where you want, but there has to be some intent. I think putting it up to the courts to figure it out when, you know, there’s a whole bunch of stuff out there that we didn’t intend, but somehow we did it for 31 years,” Seaton said at Monday’s board staff briefing, addressing the proposed update to the county code on animal control that has been six months in the making, and is still coming up way short of the mark.
Seaton’s issue is that the county, and its partners in the regional animal shelter in the cities of Staunton and Waynesboro, has been assessing fees on pet owners that aren’t authorized in state or local legal codes.
The Wayne District supervisor, who is up for re-election in November, and is the only member of the Board of Supervisors with an opponent on the ballot, has estimated that the fees he contends were illegally assessed total in the millions of dollars – millions, with an m-.
County Attorney James Benkahla reviewed for board members at their Monday staff briefing a proposed new ordinance that will be the subject of a public hearing on Wednesday night.
After giving the proposed language a thumbs up, Seaton challenged the attorney on the matter of intent.
“Our whole legal system is based on intent, a person’s intent, either reckless intent or purpose, full intent. When we have somebody who’s committing a crime, there has to be some intent. And now, why don’t we have it in our ordinance? Why don’t we have that in our ordinance like they have it in the state code? Why don’t we have it?” Seaton said.
Benkahla said he can “appreciate what Dr. Seaton saying, but there’s a specific code section that says the county can make ordinances more stringent, and even assuming that the intent of the state code is that you had to intentionally permit your dog to run at large, which I don’t think that’s the intent of that, but even assuming it is, that’s an argument that can be made in court anyway.”
Seaton’s answer there: when the matter of the legality of the proposed new county ordinance would go in front of a judge, it would likely end up being thrown out.
“Why don’t we change it right now? I mean, it’s not hard to change. We have the wording. It’s in the state code right now. It’s in the wording, it says that the county can make it more stringent. And I know that we don’t need to. We can make it, well, we can make it the way the state has it,” Seaton said.
“The state has had far more hearings than we have had on this ordinance there. I’m sure it’s had far more people testifying than we’ll ever fill up this room here for this part of the code here. Why isn’t intent in our code in our ordinance? I think it needs to be in our ordinance. There needs to be something that says that. I think the real reason is because you want our ACOs to be able to go out and ticket everybody,” Seaton said.
You could almost hear a new draft censure resolution being drafted as those words hung in the air.
“I have no dog in this fight. It makes no difference to me. But it’s not for the ACO, it would be up to the court to decide. It doesn’t stop the animal control officer from writing a ticket. Again, just whether or not the word is permits or negligently permit, intentionally permit, recklessly permit,” Benkahla said.
“I’m just saying in my legal opinion that it’s fine the way it reads now. But I’m not saying you can’t put it in there. I’m just saying the way it reads now, in my legal opinion, that’s fine. That’s, that’s all I’m saying,” Benkahla said.