GULFPORT — The City Council chickened out Tuesday, reversing its previous decision to allow residents to keep up to 10 chickens as pets.
"It seems so underhanded," said Jennifer Conroy, who thought the council's unanimous vote two weeks ago in favor of her chickens would be repeated.
Two of the council's five members, Michele King and Mary Stull, could not attend Tuesday's final vote on the chicken ordinance.
Then two of the remaining three-member council quorum, Judy Ryerson and Bob Worthington, changed their votes.
Only Mayor Michael Yakes voted to approve the new chicken rules.
Worthington said he now thinks that allowing chickens is a "step backward for the city." And Ryerson said she is now against "a citywide ordinance for one family."
The two council members questioned how the city would regulate the building of chicken coops or who would be responsible for catching any chickens that flew their coops.
The 2-1 vote against the ordinance means that the city's rules prohibiting chickens in residential back yards remains in effect.
"I was appalled," the mayor said Thursday. "We put more work into this issue than we did on the budget."
Yakes says he hopes that King and Stull will be able to persuade either Ryerson or Worthington to allow a revote.
Under council meeting rules, only members of the prevailing, or winning, side of a vote can ask for the vote to be reconsidered.
"I think it will happen," Yakes said. The council next meets on Jan. 6.
Conroy says if the ordinance is not reconsidered and passed, she and her family may be forced to move to another city, such as St. Petersburg or Largo, where the chicken laws are more liberal.
"When my kids heard the news Tuesday, they just cried. I don't know what we are going to do," she said.
Her two daughters, Peregrine, 7, and Suwanee, 4, raised the chickens from the time they were hatched and consider them pets.
"It breaks my heart," Yakes said. "I do care and I think we let them down."
The family's chicken saga began in June when one of Conroy's flock of chickens loudly announced she had laid an egg. A nearby police officer heard the loud clucking, investigated and cited Conroy's husband, Briggs Monteith, for a city code violation.
Yakes said it is "unlikely" the city's police will knock on Conroy's door any time soon to give the family another citation for owning chickens.
"We will give them time to allow them to comply with the code," Yakes said. "I am asking the city to show some consideration and give them a reasonable time to make arrangements."
Interim City Manager Jim O'Reilly confirmed that the city "is not going out looking for chickens" during the holiday season.