Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Opinion

Tampa City Council ponders a grand issue: chickens

This is oh, so, so Tampa.

Last year, as a newbie member of the Times editorial board, I spent several days participating in interviews with what seemed like legions of candidates aspiring to serve on the Tampa City Council.

The topics discussed, as you might imagine, ranged from the plight of the homeless to public transportation, the city's pension fund, zoning matters and the ever-nagging problem of streamlining the permitting process.

Not once, not even in passing, did the burning issue of illicit chickens seem to rise to one of the great issues of the day. Who knew?

I suspect that many candidates, especially first-time political rookies such as Harry Cohen, Lisa Montelione and Mike Suarez, might have deluded themselves into thinking serving on the council would mean tackling grand urban issues of livability, economic development and public safety, perhaps even thinking of a future involving the strains of Hail to the Chief.

Instead they ponder chickens, most notably the noble and somewhat elusive Tampa chicken.

Apparently, city codes require farm animals, which include chickens, to be enclosed in an area at least 200 feet from neighboring homes, which is roughly two-thirds the size of a football field. Or put another way, given the Tampa Bay Bucs' anemic offense, you could probably house a flock of chickens at Hellooooo Sucker Stadium pretty much undisturbed throughout an entire game.

Apparently, there has been crime most fowl afoot in Tampa, as some scofflaws have chosen to raise their critters in smaller coops. Oh, the coq au vin of it all.

There are actually two types of Tampa chicken — those raised by people for possible Sunday dinner and the wild, roaming, rogue chickens that populate neighborhoods like Ybor City, Forest Hills and enclaves on Davis Islands.

Some, it might be said, could be wily escapees yearning to cackle free.

Over the past two years, agents from the city's code enforcement office, otherwise known as the FBI — the Fricassee Bureau of Investigation — have hunted the byways of Tampa checking out nearly 500 complaints of illegal capon capers.

So far, the poulet sleuths have found 191 of cases of unlawful chickencide.

The good news is the Chicken Cosa Nostra aren't like the nutcakes who keep Burmese pythons as pets, only to turn the beasts loose once they grow to horror movie size. When a chicken gets too big for its beak, it winds up on the barbie.

Susan Ramos, who is a chicken desperado, defended her herd of cluckers, noting that the birds, in the minds of some, have a "bad reputation," while in fact they are actually clean, quiet and smart.

A bad reputation? What? Do they get drunk, make snide remarks and cheat at poker? We're talking chickens here, not Bobby Brown.

As for "smart," with all due deference to Ms. Ramos, chickens have never been compared to, say, dolphins as one of the animal kingdom's leading intellectual lights.

They don't fetch or shake claws or chase after Frisbees. A chicken is nothing more than a hot-wing-in-waiting.

That grand deliberative body, the Tampa City Council, is pondering what to do about the renegade chicken crisis.

It will probably end up with a chicken pot pie pride parade, which is how the council seems to deal with most of its pressing cultural issues.

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