Saturday, March 28, 2009

Uno the Beagle not welcome in Gwinnett County

Uno the Beagle not welcome in Gwinnett County

America loves a hero. For many dog loving American's Uno the beagle, who won Best in Show last year, is that hero. Uno captured the hearts of America during his celebrity tour that included the first-ever White House visit by a Westminster winner. When his victory was announced Uno's howls of joy were only drowned out by the passionate response from the crowd who cheered his victory.

Uno's year started the day after he won, when he went to Sardi's for the winner's traditional plate of strip steak. He also made the rounds on a host of television shows delighting audiences with his cheerful personality.

Since then he's spent an hour with Texas Gov. Rick Perry. He rode with Snoopy, America's other most famous beagle, in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. He threw out the first pitch at Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals baseball games. Well, okay, he fetched the first pitch.

Uno rang the bell to open the NASDAQ stock exchange and spent his third birthday visiting the commander and chief, President George Bush in the White House. Laura Bush gave Uno a red-white-and-blue collar and lead as a birthday present. The famous hound also got a chance to play with 270 school kids and Girl Scouts. Later, he visited injured GIs at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Now retired, Uno is a certified therapy dog who visits Ronald McDonald Houses around the country. "Uno has a wonderful personality and temperament," said Westminster Director of Communications David Frei and TV host for USA and CNBC, who added, "I've been doing this for 20 years and have never seen a dog that the public responded to like Uno."

According to a November 26, 2008 article in the International Herald Tribune Americas, the Global Edition of the New York Times, Uno has had a busy year.
Uno had a day declared in his honor in his home state of Illinois

Uno met the family of Peanuts comic strip creator, Charles Schultz. The comic character, Snoopy, was Uno’s ink-on-paper beagle forebear.

Uno appears to love the applause and the attention heaped on him and people seem to relate to him as a type of underdog champion.

While Uno was welcomed by the White House for his accomplishments it is ironic is that his howls of joy and excitement would be in violation of this county's ordinance on nuisance barking.

If Uno or any of his champion "brood" ever decided to visit Gwinnett our county's ordinance would consider any barking exuberance of more then five times for thirty seconds would be a violation of county code. One is left to wonder whether laws written to condemn dogs like Uno are written to make prosecuting and convicting dogs like Uno rather then written advocating to assure their safety in the community.

The owner of the property Uno was visiting could be cited, pay up to a thousand dollars in fine, face six months in jail and if the animal rights attorney was inclined have Uno seized and become the property of the county governments animal shelter.

While the issue of dog's barking more then five times for thirty seconds is what a vast majority of dogs do - after all they are dogs, an ordinance of this nature will be viewed as a first of it's kind that specifically criminalize owning beagles.

Here's what the Humane Society of the United States says about traits common in beagles.

Surrender: “During my years in rescue work, the most common reason for surrender I heard was that the beagle’s barking was causing trouble with the neighbors.”
Adoption: “If a potential adopter is considering a beagle, they need to accept that beagles bark. Beagles love to bark so much that I am convinced they soon forget why they started barking and just continue to bark for the sheer enjoyment of it. A potential adopter should know that their prospective new family member will be a vocal one.

As a long time owner and advocate for beagles in our community I'm convinced too that beagles bark simply because they can. Anyone who has had the pleasure of being owned by a beagle knows that they are fiercely stubborn in their ways, have an attention span of a gnat, and follow their nose to wherever and whatever direction it takes them.

Of all the real crime issues in Gwinnett, an explosive growth in drug trafficking, illegal immigration and gang violence, the beagles are the only criminal element which have successfully visited the white house - doesn't that say something about the county's mixed up priorities?

Friday, March 27, 2009

AJC - Dog lover agrees to stay away from witnesses against him

If ever there was proof of why Gwinnett County's policy of prosecuting animal ordinances under criminal code this latest run around with the county proves that point. My efforts with bringing a city official's property into compliance with the provisions of the homestead exemption were responded to with threats from the county seeking to have my probation revoked for the balance of the remaining seventeen months.

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

The most basic component of freedom of expression is the right of freedom of speech. The right to freedom of speech allows individuals to express themselves without interference or constraint by the government. The Supreme Court requires the government to provide substantial justification for the interference with the right of free speech where it attempts to regulate the content of the speech. The Supreme Court has also recognized that the government may prohibit some speech that may cause a breach of the peace or cause violence.

The right to free speech includes other mediums of expression that communicates a message. These communication medians include writing private emails, blog postings and the issue of information distributed to the media.

Democracy in it's purest form is supposed to be messy.

If this elected official was sincere in correcting what was an "honest oversight" then why not just pay the tax and move on? Instead, this became a court case where I would have argued my rights under the first amendment in seeking repayment of ALL the unpaid taxes on this property. While the city official has little choice but to pay the last three years of illegally claimed homestead exemptions what remains unclear is his commitment to volunteer payment for 2004 and 2005 as well.

Those of us who pay our property taxes and who understand we face reduced services and tax increases as Gwinnett tries to balance the county's fiscal budget expect that everyone pays their fair share. I have never questioned this city officials right to comment on my dogs I have questioned his judgment in making tax and spending decisions in his current public position for which he was elected. Someone who doesn't understand the tax codes, who seems confused on the role the first amendment plays in a citizens right to open and transparent government clearly and who apparently doesn't share my views on the role of the family pet in our community is not someone I would endorse or vote for to protect ALL the citizens interest in his community.

Meanwhile, I will continue to advocate for changing the way Gwinnett County deals with the animal ordinances by having them enforced as civil violations. With the exception of animal cruelty, animal neglect, dog fighting and the dangerous dog provisions all of the remaining issues pertaining to animal ownership should be handled under the civil statutes - which includes allowing those accused to simply mail in their ticket and pay a reasonable fine (like a driving offense) as opposed to adding to the docket of Gwinnett's Recorders Court.

The bottom line is NO PET OWNER should risk losing their freedom simply because of an innocuous act of their pet misbehaving. AS a voter who votes to protect his family's interest (that includes my family of hounds) those are the principles of democracy that I will continue to speak out for.

To read the entire article (comments welcome)

see below

Dog lover agrees to stay away from witnesses against him

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Dog lover Randy DeCarlo has agreed to a consent order to have no contact with any of the six witnesses who helped put him on probation for violating Gwinnett County’s noise-nuisance ordinance.

The order, signed Wednesday, modifies DeCarlo’s terms of probation and allows him to stay out of jail.
DeCarlo had faced up to $24,000 in fines, 12 years in prison, and possibly losing all of his 25 dogs when he went to court last year. Instead, he was placed on supervised probation for two years.

DeCarlo said he was being dragged into court because witnesses alleged he had harassed them since his original case.

Wednesday’s consent order may put a halt to DeCarlo’s recent public campaign against Lilburn City Councilman Eddie Price, one of the witnesses at his hearing. DeCarlo has pointed out at public meetings that the councilman and his wife had recently been assessed back taxes for a homestead exemption on a piece of rental property near DeCarlo’s rural Lilburn home.

Records from the county assessor’s office show that as a result of an anonymous tip received Feb. 25, an audit was performed on the property, and bills for three years were sent out totaling $1,786.86.

Price said there was no deception intended. The house is not in his name. It belonged, he said, to his wife before they were married and was paid for through an escrow account. After the marriage, he said, no one thought to go into the escrow account and change it.

“When that was brought to my attention,” Price said, “we immediatley called the county and said, ‘Hey, he’s right. She should have had this removed, please remove it and figure out what we owe you.’ “

As for DeCarlo, he wants off supervised probation.

“Since the day of the trial, I’ve made a commitment to comply with the order of the court to make sure my dogs didn’t cause any problem in the neighborhood, and that hasn’t happened,” he said.

To read the entire article and comment

Friday, March 20, 2009

CNN Drug Dealers Hound Gwinnett

For a county so concerned about barking dogs......for a county that invested countless hours in finding new ways to criminalize dog barking....guess what?

Mexican drug cartels thrive in suburban Gwinnett
City outpaces all others in the United States in drug-related cash seizures $30 million has been confiscated in Atlanta this fiscal year Location, proximity to other cities and highways cited in trafficking growth.

Drug dealers "hide in plain sight" in suburban Gwinnett County in an eiry silence the only sounds being gun shots from random drug violence.....

By Lateef Mungin

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Oscar Reynoso owed his bosses $300,000, and he was running out of time.

One anti-drug operation in Atlanta netted $10.6 million, 108 kilos of cocaine, 17 pounds of meth and 32 weapons.

Gunmen snatched Reynoso and locked him in the basement of a home to try to settle the drug debt.

He was chained to a wall of the basement by his hands and ankles, gagged and beaten. His captors, members of a powerful Mexican drug cartel, held Reynoso for ransom, chained in the sweltering, dirty basement for six days without food.

Reynoso's ordeal could've been a scene from the drug war in Mexico. But it played out recently in suburban Atlanta, Georgia.

U.S. federal agents are fighting to keep that kind of violence from gripping Atlanta, as the city known for Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines has become a major distribution hub for Mexican drug cartels.

In fiscal year 2008, authorities confiscated about $70 million in drug-related cash in Atlanta, more than anywhere else in the United States, the Drug Enforcement Administration says.

This fiscal year, Atlanta continues to outpace all other U.S. regions in such seizures, with $30 million confiscated so far. Next are Los Angeles, California, with about $19 million, and Chicago, Illinois, with $18 million.

"There is definitely a center of this type of drug activity here, and we are working to make sure the violence does not spill out to the general public," Atlanta U.S. Attorney David Nahmias said.

Atlanta has become a stopping point for truckloads of Mexican cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine, agents say. The drugs are held in stash houses before being distributed up the East Coast.

"The money comes down here also to money managers in Atlanta, who get the books in order before it is sent out," said Rodney Benson, Atlanta's chief of the DEA.

Agents attribute the growth in drug trafficking to Atlanta's location, proximity to other major cities and access to major highways.

Authorities also point to the growth of the Hispanic population in Atlanta, which allows practitioners of the Mexican drug trade to blend in among hard-working, law-abiding Hispanics.

No place is that more evident than in Gwinnett County, a community about 20 miles north of Atlanta.

Gwinnett's Hispanic population rocketed from 8,470 in 1990 to 63,727 in 2000, according to the U.S. Census. By 2010, 20 percent of the county's projected population of 700,000 is expected to be Hispanic.

"In Gwinnett County, the drug dealers are able to hide in plain sight," county District Attorney Danny Porter said. "To combat this, we have to be much more coordinated between my office, the police department and the federal authorities. The presence of the organizations is a dilemma enough that we have to develop new tactics."

Federal agents say arrests and drug-related violence in Atlanta have been linked to the two most powerful Mexican organizations: the Sinaloa and Gulf cartels.

A battle over drug routes has been blamed for the recent surge in violence in Mexican border towns, bloodshed that has included hundreds of deaths.

The fear is that the battle will extend deeper into the United States, causing more to suffer a fate similar to Reynoso's ordeal in the Gwinnett County basement.

Lucky for Reynoso, federal agents had a wiretap on his captors' phones. Agents stormed the home just as it appeared that the debt would not be paid and Reynoso would be killed.

"There is no doubt in my mind that we saved his life that day," said the DEA's Benson.

One case resolved, as cartels thrive in Atlanta.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

AJC - Counties try to keep an eye on homestead exemptions

Here's an article from the AJC that addresses the issues I raised on misuse of homestead exemptions. The amount of money that is potentially lost is staggering. Unfortunately it is often the efforts of whistle blowers that return these revenues for use in providing county services. Often times the amount of money misappropriated reaches grand theft proportions, yet few are ever prosecuted.

While the article mentions that the county tax office appreciates the efforts of private citizens who act as "whistle blowers" the county solicitor's office is not quite as grateful - for my efforts I face spending the next sixteen months in jail fulfilling the county's real criminal offense - barking dogs.

My revocation hearing is next Thursday morning in Gwinnett's Recorders Court.

Counties try to keep eye on homestead exemptions

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

More than a few homeowners are overreaching when it comes to property tax breaks. And whether intentional or not, it’s keeping county offices busy.

In 2008, the Gwinnett County Tax Commissioner’s Office removed or denied some 617 current or past filings for homestead exemptions. Of those, seven were rentals whose exemption was pulled in the audit process.

Had all 617 gone through, the county could have lost close to $260,000 in revenue based on the average county homestead exemption of $420. This includes about $240 from the state’s homeowners tax relief grant.
“They don’t in any way represent 617 attempts to beat the system,” said Richard Steele, director of the property tax division of the Gwinnett County Tax Commissioner’s Office. “[They were] denied simply because they were, in fact, honest on the application.”

Homestead exemptions give property owners a break on property taxes for their primary residence. To qualify, a property must be used as a primary residence by the owner and be in the same county in which his or her vehicles are registered. Single or married, you may claim only one homestead exemption.

Like most other metro counties, Steele said, his auditors check applications against vehicle registrations, returned mail and postal records.

Steele said the law only provides penalties if an applicant intends to commit fraud. In such cases, property owners can be charged double the tax originally due. Proving intent, Steele said, is next to impossible.

So is assuring against it.

Each month, Cobb County Tax Commissioner Gail Downing said her office presents a list of properties to the board of assessors that have been discovered to be ineligible for the exemption. Last year, the office removed 222 homestead exemptions. The county’s average homestead exemption is about $500.

“I wish I could say it was infrequent, but it’s not,” she said. “In some cases it’s honestly just a misunderstanding or where they’re not aware that they’re not supposed to have it.”

Downing said she has pursued penalties in several cases. Most of the time, though, she said she gives the property owner 60 days to pay before penalties and interest kick in.

Fulton and DeKalb counties also employ auditing techniques to flag errant filings.

Fulton’s average homestead exemption is $500. Last year, its homestead division removed 16,341 exemptions.

The stakes are higher in DeKalb County. Thanks to the county’s homestead option sales tax, qualified owners receive an average homestead exemption of $1,073. Last year, the county removed 862 homestead exemptions not related to property transfers/ownership changes which are automatically removed.

If an application gets through the checks, auditors have one last tool: tips from neighbors.

“Our auditors get those kind of tips pretty much on a daily basis,” Steele said. “We’re very appreciative of that information.”

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Did Wilkes County NC Pit Bulls Get Gassed?

One must question how a "humane society" that loves our pets can stand by silently without being outraged that the victims in the Wilkes County Dog Fighting case became the ultimate victims of animal cruelty with the systematic method used to end their lives. - Spalding Gas Chamber

Here in Georgia we face our own admissions of inhumane shortcomings, especially from those in the "ivory towers" of animal advocacy who refused to speak out against the travesty of murdering pets in the remaining Georgia counties that still use gas chambers.

From Nathan's blog....

Did Wilkes County Dogs Get Gassed?
March 9, 2009 by Nathan J. Winograd

With the uproar over the Wilkes County massacre focusing on the systematic and needless killing of the 145 dogs and puppies, and the Humane Society of the United State’s shameless defense of it, there hasn’t been a lot of commentary on the cruel way the dogs probably died. Did the Wilkes County dogs get gassed? Except for the really young puppies, according to testimony at a County Commission meeting, the answer is probably, yes.

The Wilkes County NC shelter which was the sight of the massacre is back in the news—defending the carbon monoxide gas chamber to kill animals, even as employees there have admitted that when they use carbon monoxide, it isn’t “a pretty sight, with animals scratching and trying to get out.”

Despite testimony from a veterinarian that animals put in gas chambers “endure more trauma and pain than necessary to end their lives,” the Director of the Wilkes County shelter not only defended the use of gas, but he defended shooting animals, and claimed (erroneously) that it takes upwards of five minutes after lethal injection for animals to stop breathing.

Webster’s dictionary defines euthanasia as “the act or practice of killing or permitting the death of hopelessly sick or injured individuals in a relatively painless way for reasons of mercy.” Unfortunately, in most shelter environments, animals are not solely being killed because they are hopelessly sick or injured, but rather as “population control.” In this environment, shelter killing—particularly of healthy and treatable animals—raises a host of ethical questions and dilemmas, many of which are being raised by the public in communities across the country.

At the very least, shelters who kill, particularly those which kill large numbers of animals, are obligated to ensure that employees are technically proficient, competent, skilled, compassionate, properly trained, and doing everything in their power to make sure the animals are as free from stress and anxiety as possible. The use of a gas chamber does not allow this.

A “relatively painless” death can only occur in an environment where sensitivity, compassion, and skill, combine with efforts to minimize distress and anxiety. By contrast, gas systems take time to kill—during which animals experience distress and anxiety, and can struggle to survive. They can result in animals surviving the gassing, only to suffer even more. They are designed for the ease of shelter workers, not care and compassion for the animals.

The use of such systems to kill animals is universally condemned by humane advocates and progressive shelters, and has been outlawed for dogs and cats in several states including New York and California. According to Dr. Michael Moyer, V.M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania College of Veterinary Medicine:

There is no progressive sheltering agency of any scope or stature willing to philosophically embrace gas systems for the killing of any species of animals. Sheltering is deliberately, inexorably, and philosophically moving away from mass killing as an acceptable method of dog/cat population control.

That there are technical features of one system that distinguish it from other such systems is irrelevant. Profit center analysis, head-to-head demonstrations, ease of use, load capacity—none of these are capable of overcoming the humane and philosophical objection to mechanized death at the core of those who have moved away from this technology.

In short, they should never be used. But they are in Wilkes County. And they most likely were for most of the Wilkes County dogs.

To view a video of animals being gassed and then thrown into a dumpster, click here. (Caution: this film videotaped inside a North Carolina shelter is very graphic.)

Excerpted From the Wilkes-Journal Patriot, March 9, 2009

The Wilkes County Animal Shelter’s use of carbon monoxide poisoning to euthanize dogs and cats was challenged during the “public concerns” portion of the county commissioners meeting Tuesday night.

Janice Combs said lethal injection was more humane and should be used instead. Ms. Combs said Wilkes was among the few places where carbon monoxide poisoning was still used.

Legislation proposed in the current N.C. General Assembly session bans euthanization by carbon monoxide. It requires that animals be euthanized only by lethal injection or by ingestion of sodium pentobarbital and that euthanasia be performed only by licensed veterinarians or certified euthanasia technicians.

Ms. Combs said that when she called the Wilkes Animal Shelter last year about the matter, an employee told her both methods were used there and that animals didn’t die quickly with carbon monoxide poisoning. The employee “said it wasn’t a pretty sight, with animals scratching and trying to get out,” she added…

Ms. Combs, an employee of the Town of Elkin, left a video and written materials for county officials to view. They included written statements criticizing use of carbon monoxide poisoning to euthanize animals, one signed by four veterinarians in Winston-Salem and the other by a veterinarian in Bahama (near Durham)…

Part of the statement from the four veterinarians with Ard-Vista Animal Hospital in Winston-Salem read, “Unfortunately, euthanasia by carbon monoxide gas chambers is still in use in many animal shelters due to lack of training, resources, funding or a combination of the above. Animals placed in these chambers, who may be suffering already, endure more trauma and pain than necessary to end their lives.”

Wilkes Animal Control Director Junior Simmons said in an interview this morning that opposition to carbon monoxide euthanization is based more on misinformation than fact.

Simmons said older animals with difficulty breathing and animals up to 4 months old are euthanized with lethal injection of sodium pentobarbital at the Wilkes Animal Shelter as recommended by the N.C. Department of Agriculture.

Except in cases where an animal struck by a vehicle or injured in some other way makes euthanization by gunshot more humane, he said, other animals at the shelter are euthanized by carbon monoxide.

He said three dogs of comparable size at a time typically are placed in the carbon monoxide chamber. When the gas is released, said Simmons, they become unconscious in 20 to 45 seconds and die as they stop breathing in two to five minutes. He said the length of time is about the same with lethal injection…