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Pulaski County breached its contracts with several lessees of garden space at Two Rivers Park in Little Rock by deciding earlier this year not to allow people to keep chickens on their garden plots any longer, nine lessees argued in a lawsuit filed last week.

Chris Attig, Christopher L. Calvert, Jennifer Faulkner, David Fox, Charles Freville, Tim Lincoln, James Newman, Eddie Rodgers and Jennifer Rodgers filed a lawsuit Wednesday seeking class-action status against Pulaski County, County Judge Barry Hyde, County Attorney Adam Fogleman and county staff attorney Will Gruber.

Pulaski County revised the terms of its garden leases in February, according to records obtained by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, to include “No animals may be kept by a gardener on any plot. Animals’ include, but are not limited to, domestic pets, livestock and wild game.”

By “unilaterally changing the terms of the 2016 lease as to some (but not all) named Plaintiffs and putative class members, one or more Defendants have breached or caused a breach of a contractual relationship between Pulaski County and names Plaintiffs and the putative class,” the lawsuit reads.

The lawsuit contends further that the change is a breach of the Arkansas Right to Farm law — which states that local ordinances that effectively declare an agricultural operation a nuisance are void — and that the county violated the open-meetings provision of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act when forming the policy.

Plaintiffs said that because county officials met to discuss banning livestock at the gardens without notifying the public, the county violated the open-meetings provision. But the lawsuit does not state who was present at those meetings or whether they were members of a governing body.

The open-meetings provision says that “all meeting, formal or informal, special or regular, of the governing bodies” of public institutions — such as quorum courts or city boards — are open meetings with the exception of executive session for discussion of issues with specific personnel.

Pulaski County spokesman Cozetta Jones said no board or other governing body was involved in the decision in Pulaski County, which was not passed in an ordinance.

She said the regulatory history of the gardens, which were started in the 1970s, is “really nonexistent” but that Hyde didn’t think having chickens on garden plots seemed to fit the gardens’ purpose.

Jones said notice was given to people who had chickens on their plots, but she said she didn’t know in what way people were notified.

“There wasn’t a memo that went out,” she said.

In Little Rock, the Animal Services Advisory board held meetings to discuss restricting the number of chickens people could have on properties smaller than an acre. In March, the board voted to send a set of recommendations — specifically limiting the number of fowl to 12 — to the city Board of Directors to consider.

In 2015, as in years prior at the Two Rivers Park Garden Center, people were allowed to keep chickens and other animals on their garden plots. Leases for 2015 garden plots ran Jan. 1 through Dec. 31, and leases for 2016 run Jan. 1 of this year through Dec. 31. People can renew their leases as long as fees of $50 per tract are paid by March 1, according to the agreements.

Because the decision to not allow animals on the garden plots wasn’t made until Feb. 5, anyone who signed a lease or renewed a lease in January or early February signed a contract that did not specifically prohibit keeping animals on their garden plots.

Numerous leases for 2016 obtained by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette do not have the provision barring the keeping of animals on garden plots, and numerous others signed later in February had that provision.

The lawsuit contends that James Newman, who signed a lease that doesn’t include that provision, was sent a letter from Gruber telling him to remove his chickens from his property by the end of March. The complaint further states that not everyone was given notice that they had to remove chickens from their garden plots.

Hyde told at least one of the defendants that the garden area was an eyesore and that the “chicken experiment” had failed.

Print Headline: County’s livestock ban leads to lawsuit

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