Calling it a "Double-edged sword" Watertown City Council candidate Cody Horbacz is not afraid to admit his platform includes taking a stance on a subject his opponents are ridiculing him for: Watertown's growing reputation as unfriendly to dogs and pet-owners. Coupled with a complacent city council that refuses to acknowledge there is an issue in the first place, Mr. Horbacz has garnered support from north country animal advocates and others who are hopeful for changes in city government.
Some people have made snide remarks about Mr. Horbacz being solely the candidate of dog lovers. Anyone who holds that view is shortsighted in the extreme.
As Mr. Horbacz told me during a recent interview, he is concerned about more than one issue but also strongly believes that a pet-oriented community tends to be a friendlier, more open one. He cites the welcoming atmosphere in Sackets Harbor and Clayton during recent family and pet related events as one example. (Stand Up For The Pups, Dock Dogs).
The beautification of green space enhances the city's appearance. This might include a dog park at some point, or it may not. No matter. Whatever we can do to improve our surroundings enhances the value of our properties and is a plus. Improvements that are within the city's means should be welcomed. And the way in which our city's government responds to its residents reflects the character of the community.
Mr. Horacz also favors a "home-grown" way of life supporting entrepreneurship and incentives for locals who strive to better our city. This includes championing small businesses and hiring locally as often as is feasible. He also believes that purchasing from local businesses bolsters the city's economy. His support and enthusiasm for the arts and area non-profits is admirable; all of these give back to us in a big way.
Speaking of the economy, one huge incentive the council does not acknowledge is that of the multi-billion dollar pet industry. By encouraging and promoting an animal friendly community the city could benefit from an influx of dollars from locals and the tourist industry alike. Yes, this includes the construction of a dog park, whether it is eventually accomplished by private individuals or with the support of the city.
Fellow candidate Stephen Jennings also emphasizes the importance of recognizing the community's social needs in his stance on addressing neighborhood decline, although he does not go so far as to mention the dog owner issue. In typical conservative fashion Councilman Smith contends the city should not get involved in helping improve neighborhoods; rather he favors a "bootstrap" approach believing social agencies take care of those things and city government should not be involved. He has also stated that he believes he listens to voters despite indications that say otherwise. This is not sufficient. People must feel invested in the process of government, they need to know their concerns are validated even when their wishes do not mesh with the decisions that are made. Just because some things are difficult, does this mean we should not even try?
Mayor Graham recently commented on the low turn-out during the primary, postulating that obviously the people do not wish for change. That is a rather narrow minded assumption for a city official to make. Perhaps Mr. Graham should question why there is a lack of participation among his constituents? After all, the low participation may relate more to a feeling of apathy among voters who have concluded their voice does not matter because no one is listening. My point is that rather than draw an immediate conclusion perhaps it would be more far sighted of the mayor to investigate just what is going on? Why are many people asking for a new city council?
This is what makes Mr. Horbacz's platform so appealing. His community-minded approach demonstrates his concern for all city residents, not just the wealthy, powerful and well-connected that the present council appears to respond so quickly to. His grass roots approach to government is refreshingly new to this city's government and of a type reminiscent of long ago when Watertown was known to encourage community involvement and held their officials to a higher standard.
Running on a platform of what may be viewed as idealistic, Mr. Horbacz has demonstrated the courage to speak up. Perhaps time has clouded the perspective of the present council as they maintain the status quo. New ideas and differing points of view are challenged harshly, the community is repeatedly informed it does not want change, and the council addresses the concerns of the privileged few while ignoring those of others.
In addition to addressing the needs of its residents what else should our city council be responsible for? Is it enough to limit its function to simply keeping the day to day business in check, keeping the bills paid and the lights on? Or should our council have a deeper responsibility to the citizens of Watertown by representing all of us, even when we differ in our opinions? Do we want our city leaders to be perceived as inept and foolish, as in the case of the "roommate law"? Or should we embrace the notion of a friendlier community, and a council that includes its residents in discussions allowing meaningful discourse with those who are interested in city government and take the time to attend council meetings?
In a recent article in the Watertown Daily Times first term incumbent Teresa Macaluso stated there is no dog ban, rather it is a "restriction." This is a game of semantics typical of council rhetoric. Ms. Macaluso contends that she always consults her constituents before voting on issues. Mr. Smith says the same. Perhaps all of the council members and the mayor could try a little harder to reach more people. The only council candidate that has come to my door seeking my input this year is Cody Horbacz.
I am opposed to the council's handling of the dog ban and subsequent pet-related issues in Watertown. But like Cody Horbacz, my concerns with our present council are not limited to the handling of dog-related problems. I am deeply troubled by multiple issues including a lack of genuine empathy with the public, the lack of fairness and respect for every member of this community, a close-minded approach to managing government, the self-serving attitude and easy dismissal of concerns, double standards and the council's laissez faire way of doing business.
On Tuesday, November 5th, grab your pooch and take a stand by heading to your polling place and voting for change.
As Cody Horbacz pointed out, "It's all about being open-minded."
For your information: What is a Dog Park and how can it benefit a community?
With cities becoming more and more crowded and leash laws becoming more restrictive, many concerned dog owners are looking to the creation of dog parks as a solution to their need for a place to spend quality time with their pets. But just what is a "dog park" and what benefits can one bring to your city or town?
A dog park is a public park, typically fenced, where people and their dogs can play together. Similarly, a dog run is a smaller fenced area, created for the same use, that is often located within an existing park. As the names imply, these places offer dogs off-leash play areas where their owners can enjoy a park-like setting and the chance to socialize with other canines and their owners. Dog parks, which are sometimes managed by park users in conjunction with city or town officials, are being established all over the country and offer a wealth of benefits to dogs, dog owners and the community as a whole. (Quoted from the AKC)
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