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Proponents of homegrown food have a reason to celebrate this week as the Missoula City Council passed a long-contested chicken ordinance, closing a debate that has received equal parts analysis and mockery from the public.

On the surface, all the clucking about urban poultry seems silly, yet somehow strangely fascinating—like watching the late comedian Andy Kaufman. Behind the apparent nonsense, perhaps something weighty lurks.

The chicken flap speaks to the sensibilities of many Missoulians bothered by the idea of huge poultry factories where chemically enhanced chickens eat God knows what before busting out our omelets. Now, city folks have a reasonable alternative. If they pay a $15 fee and keep their hen house 20 feet from the neighbors, they’ll get to see exactly where egg salad comes from.

Even if others laugh it off as some lame, hippie-headed simulation of virtuous living, a lot of people genuinely care about producing their own food in their own way, using their own effort and ingenuity.

More than that, however, the passage of the chicken ordinance showed the Missoula City Council working at its amenable best, much to the chagrin of some obstinate members who hoped to defeat the measure and send the poultry packing. Special commendation goes to departing Ward 4 councilor Jerry Ballas, who thoughtfully dropped his opposition to the ordinance in response to reasonable concessions from proponents and strong public opinion.

Never one to shy away from criticizing others, Ballas challenged the chickens from the beginning. He didn’t want them in his neighborhood. Where some saw sustainability, Ballas perceived annoying clucking and smelly droppings. He wanted a cap on the number of chickens, a rooster ban, and a fee to cover any additional burdens for Animal Control.

Those demands seemed reasonable to pro-poultry councilors, and they made amendments to the measure. It’s called “compromise.”

On Monday night Ballas voted in favor of the ordinance, assuring its passage on the floor. But Ballas says it wasn’t the compromise alone that changed his mind.

“My constituents wanted it,” he explains. “People came to me and said they wanted the chickens, so, I voted for the chickens.”

The next time Council meets outside of committee will be Monday, Jan. 7. Hopefully the incoming members watched this vote carefully and learned a lesson: First, serve the people.

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