A 3-3 vote of the Scarborough Town Council Wednesday defeated a motion to reconsider a controversial leash law adopted Oct. 2, allowing a referendum on the topic to go forward.

About three hours before the start of Wednesday’s council meeting, members of Dog Owners of Greater Scarborough (DOGS) turned in 2,753 signatures to send the newly amended animal control ordinance to voters. Petitioners needed to collect at least 2,379 signatures – 25 percent of the total residents who voted in the most gubernatorial election – to get the question on the ballot. Town Clerk Tody Justice now has 10 business days to validate the signatures. Assuming the minimum number of signatures are found to be from registered Scarborough voters, the Town Council will have 30 calendar days to conduct a public hearing, after which they must schedule a public vote within an additional 30 days, according to the town charter.

“Let the voters decide,” said lead petitioner Katy Foley.

Many members of the DOGS group, wearing Scarborough red as a sign of solidarity, spoke at Wednesday’s council meeting, urging the council not to reconsider the Oct. 2 vote, as Chairman Ahlquist had said he wanted to do. Reconsideration would have invalidated the petition drive unless the council then turned around and re-adopted the same amendments passed on Oct. 2.

The new ordinance, stemming from the killing of an endangered piping plover chick July 15 on Pine Point Beach, banned dogs from being off leash on public property anywhere in town. The original proposal, reached in negotiations with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in hopes of mitigating a $12,000 fine levied for violating the Endangered Species Act because the feds say Scarborough “did knowingly cause” the killing by allowing an overly lax leash law, would have banned dogs from being off leash on municipal beaches from April 1 to Sept. 15.

Under the previous ordinance, adopted in 2004, dogs could be off leash between sunrise and 9 a.m. only from July 15 to Sept. 15. During those months, they could not be on the beach at all between 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and could be on the beach only if on a leash from 5 p.m. until sunset. There was no leash restriction from Sept. 16 to June 14.

“I still feel in my gut this was the right thing to do,” said Councilor Katherine St. Clair, who joined Jim Benedict and Ed Blaise in voting against Ahlquist’s motion to reconsider.

Councilor Judy Roy, who voted to reconsider, along with Ahlquist and Jessica Holbrook, was so “disheartened” by the decision that she said she wished she could remove her name from the November ballot. Roy is currently running for re-election in a four-way race for two open seats on the council.

Editor’s note: This story will be updated and expanded in the Current’s Oct. 24 print edition.

Scarborough Town Councilors voting to reconsider a controversial town-wide leash law adopted Oct. 2 are, from left with hands raised, Judy Roy, Jessica Holbrook and Ron Ahlquist. Killing the measure by voting no in the 3-3 tie vote are, closest from left, Jim Benedict, Ed Blaise and Kate St. Clair. Also shown are Town Clerk Tody Justice and Town Manager Tom Hall.

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