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Editorial: Much ado over a tiny rooster

The saga of Dallas the rooster and his boon companion, soon to be 6-year-old Ayla Macnab of Dufur, offers more than a few cautionary tales for the participants and the people who have been following the story longer than any social media sensation can rightfully expect.

The short version of the story: Young Ayla saved her pennies two years ago until she could afford to buy Dallas. A few months later, the city of Dufur added roosters to its nuisance ordinance in response to another issue within the town. Earlier this year, a neighbor complained after hearing Dallas crow, as was the neighbor’s right under city rules. The city sent a cease-and-desist order.

Ayla’s mom sought community support for her daughter and her pet-Cloverbuds project by posting it on Facebook and starting an online petition. Instead of the handful of neighbors she hoped would attend the meeting, more than 35,000 people across the globe signed her petition. Dufur’s mayor and city offices were inundated with calls and emails, some of them not very civil.

The mayor held a hearing in accordance with the law, and found Dallas a nuisance, but stayed the sentence until the city council could consider whether to revisit its rooster rule.

The council is expected to discuss the issue tonight — the first time it has met since the kerfuffle began last month — and decide whether it wants to revisit the rule.

Let’s be clear: The Macnab family acted in good faith upon advice they say the city gave them. They had the rooster before the new law took effect and say they researched the matter before the purchase.

So, too, did the city, which enacted a law they felt they had the ability to enforce.

Likewise the neighbor, who was within the rights established under the nuisance law.

However, nuisances, by their nature, aren’t subject to a grandfather clause. They are designed to keep the peace within the community and when the peace is broken they are designed to restore it through due process.

And when Ayla’s mother posted the issue on Facebook, she was doing what almost any modern individual would do, appealing to her online circle of friends for support and commiseration.

But she got more than she probably bargained for. When her child’s plight went viral, she brought the full bullying weight of the social network down upon the small city of Dufur.

Make no mistake, that’s exactly what social media becomes in this situation: an unruly mob reacting emotionally to a situation they know little about. In other words, a bully.

Fortunately, Mayor Arthur Smith had little regard for social media before this event (and probably less after). He worried less about the defamation going on in the ether, and more about how to act in the best interest of Dufur and its residents.

As he should have, he followed the procedure established under the nuisance law, but gave the residents of Dufur and their elected city council the opportunity to reconsider the rooster clause and its broader effect on the agrarian community — and possibly have mercy on Dallas and young Ayla.

What lessons can be learned from this experience? There are a few:

  1. Social media is a blunt force, uncontrollable object that can leave a lingering bad taste when applied to small-town issues. It has the potential to create hard feelings between people who may meet on a regular basis at the grocery store or gas station. It should be used only after all other options are exhausted.

  2. Even small cities should make every effort to assure their records, when posted online, are up-to-date and complete. The Macnabs said they found an outdated ordinance online and no other complaints could be found at the city since 2010 — two years before the new rule was enacted.

  3. One of the great things about living in a small town is the ability to interact face-to-face, to know your neighbors and to resolve issues cordially between them. This is a circumstance to encourage and treasure in an increasingly impersonal world.

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