Pond is a licensed master plumber by trade and not wise in the ways of dealing with government bureaucracy. He had taken the county zoning board to court over its refusal to grant his request to allow chickens on his property. That is when the system bound and gagged him and his chicks in red tape. The Cobb Zoning Appeals Board said Mr. Pond hadn’t served it with legal notice that he had appealed its decision to Superior Court and hadn’t paid the required fees and that the case should be dismissed.
Pond said he thought the court clerk’s office was supposed to make sure the paperwork was done properly. Cobb Superior Court Judge Juanita Stedman told him, “You can’t rely on the clerk’s office.” Fair enough. Taxpayers ought to know the intricacies of government bureaucracy. After all, what else do they have to do?
At the same time, Leigh Savage, of Powder Springs, was trying to raise some chickens for the eggs. Ms. Savage is a breast cancer survivor and her doctor recommended fresh eggs, not the store-bought variety, as an important addition to her diet. She found herself suddenly facing the same bureaucratic obstacles as Mr. Pond but with one big difference. She had a neighbor a couple of doors away by the name of Rep. Earl Ehrhart, (R-Powder Springs) a long-time Republican power in the Georgia House of Representatives.
Ehrhart told Ms. Savage he couldn’t do anything about county ordinances but he “might be of some assistance” at the state level. He promptly introduced H.B. 853, with his colleagues Rep. Tom McCall (R-Elberton) chairman of the House Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee; Terry England (R-Auburn), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee; Jay Roberts (R-Ocilla), chairman of the House Transportation Committee; Tony McBrayer (R-Tifton) a member of the Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee and even a Democrat, Karla Drenner, (D-Avondale Estates).
The little guys had just found a big voice.
The bill is titled the Right to Grow Act. It declares that no local government or local government authority shall prohibit the growing of food crops, rabbits or chickens on private residential property so long as such foods are used for human consumption by the occupant and not for commercial purposes. Ehrhart says the issue is about using common sense and exercising local freedom.
H.B. 853 passed the Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee and is scheduled to go before the Rules Committee on Wednesday with a couple of changes. Roosters were dropped out and honey bees were added. I understand roosters were a little miffed at what they feel is gross discrimination. If any roosters are reading this, I would suggest that if you could learn to keep your mouths shut when the sun comes up, you might have more support. It’s your own fault.
As for the honey bees, I want them to know that I have always been on their side. I have learned the hard way to never upset honey bees.
The biggest obstacle facing the bill is opposition from the Georgia Municipal Association and homeowner association groups. Ehrhart is particularly critical of the GMA spending taxpayer money to lobby against the wishes of local taxpayers. “It is quite a sight to see their silk-stocking lawyers standing behind the ropes at the Capitol trying to grab legislators to talk about chickens. I can just hear them crying ‘The Sky is Falling.’” he chuckles.
As for the homeowner associations, my Favorite Quote Machine says they remind him of Mrs. Kravitz, the nosy neighbor on “Bewitched.” That is Earl Ehrhart at his best. Who else would remember Gladys Kravitz, a minor character on a TV show that hasn’t been around for four decades, to describe his opponents? That line beats by a mile the day he referred to Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle as Eddie Haskell from “Leave it to Beaver.” This man is an answer to a columnist’s prayers.
Ehrhart says it is too early in the process to predict the ultimate fate of the bill. There is, after all, a lot going on under the Gold Dome these days. But whether it passes or not, Leigh Savage and Joseph Pond found somebody with some clout to listen their plight when the bureaucrats would not. And they couldn’t have picked a better advocate than Earl Ehrhart. He’s a good egg.
You can reach Dick Yarbrough at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Georgia 31139.