Ashley Fiske

ASHLEY FISKE

Editor’s note: Proponents of legalizing backyard chickens in Belgrade addressed the City Council at its meeting Monday. The following remarks were made by Ashley Fiske, one of the organizers of the unsuccessful effort to secure enough valid petition signatures to put the matter before voters next November (see related story, Page A1). We are printing her statements here because her description of the petition drive process, particularly during a year complicated by a pandemic and busy general election season, is both interesting and informative.

I am here today to speak to the journey that we have taken over the last three months.

We started out with hopes to gather 793 valid signatures. We received no response after asking the election office via e-mail and in person for help determining a general percentage success rate for a petition, so we settled on a goal of 20 percent over the required number of signatures. We gathered 22 percent more than the required amount.

As you know, 659 of the 1,008 signatures that we turned in were accepted. We were notified AFTER our deadline that the going percentage rate of unqualified signatures for petitions of this nature are 30 to 40 percent. We were told AFTER our deadline that there were walk lists available to us which include the addresses of registered Belgrade voters. We were told AFTER our deadline that the city limit map we used to walk door to door was outdated. We had no help from our government and were told time and time again that our cause was not important at this time.

I am coming here today asking for your help because I can assure you our time and efforts mattered. In the 12 weeks we spent gathering signatures, we left work early to knock on doors and set up tables encouraging people to sign our petition. We spent hours at home strategizing, preparing walk maps, and interacting with community members who reached out via the newspaper and Facebook.

During the 12 weeks that we had to complete this petition, we experienced weeks of major setbacks with the loss of my brother at birth and my grandfather to COVID. We were up against many odds, including a pandemic and one of the most controversial elections of our time. Despite all these setbacks, we also had many successes of which I am very proud. We collected over 1,000 signatures. We got to know the people in our community! We had many people invite us in for warmth when were collecting signatures on cold nights. We had people give us pet food and trinkets. We had people go out of their way to let us know that they appreciate us standing up for a cause, no matter how small, and for making a difference in our community.

We made lots of people laugh because, honestly, advocating for chickens is a little bit silly. And we had countless children light up with the idea that one day they could have chickens and collect eggs of their very own.

This November in International Falls, Minn., and Glasgow, Mont., the question of allowing backyard chickens went to ballot. Neither passed. The vote in International Falls was held after 40 years of battling between the city council and the community. It was rejected, but at least the people had an opportunity to speak for themselves.

This particular battle in Belgrade has been going on for the last 10 years. I know, based on your responses to our requests for a public hearing, that you are sick of hearing about it. Regardless of whether the 1,008 signatures are considered legitimate, they represent over 1,000 people from this community who maybe didn’t agree with having chickens but agreed that the people have the right to vote. We have proved that we are willing to put in the work and I’m asking you to meet us halfway and allow the citizens to vote on this in November 2021.

Ashley Fiske is a leader of Coop Troop Belgrade, a group of citizens advocating for the legalization of backyard chickens in Belgrade. She can be contacted through the Coop Troop Belgrade Facebook page.