The heft and feel of a well-worn handle,
The sight of shavings that curl from a blade;
The logs in the wood pile, the sentiment of huge beams in an old-fashioned house;
The smell of fresh cut timber and the pungent fragrance of burning leaves;
The crackle of kindling and the hiss of burning logs.
Abundant to all the needs of man, how poor the world would be
Without wood.

Everard Hinrichs, quoted by Eric Sloane in A Reverence for Wood


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

First They Come for Your Chickens, Then They Come for Your Firewood, Then They Come for You

Well, let's start off on a pleasant note, before we get into the sad and bizarre.

"Urban chickens" are in the news recently, as homeowners across the country choose to raise chickens in their backyard. The video below was featured in an excellent article in that explains how some folks are finding themselves fighting local ordinances in order to raise fryers and eggs.

This type of experience got out of hand, with tragic consequences, for Andrew Wordes of Roswell, Georgia. The story was reported in the local Georgia news media, but I never heard of it up here in Pennsylvania. Chances are you didn't hear of it, either. It's a tough one to report, and even harder to understand. The reporting on the blog site is one of the few I could find that provides enough detail to understand how things ever came to be how they did...

The story begins back in 2009 when Andrew Wordes, otherwise known as the Roswell Chicken Man, began his fight to raise chickens on his property. In February 2009, the city of Roswell, GA started to cite Andrew Wordes for raising livestock in his backyard. Wordes, who had started raising chickens on his .97-acre homestead in 2005, decided to fight back. And guess what...he Won.

But sadly that’s when the real trouble started….

You see, the story actually has very little to do with chickens. While the city of Roswell, and cities just like it across America ,would like people to believe it’s as simple as chickens - the real story is about the rights of property owners.

In a map that was published back in 2003, as part of Roswell’s 2030 Comprehensive Plan for city improvements, one thing becomes painfully obvious. The city had already planned to take Wordes property.

The Map showed that the city had major plans for his property. In fact, Wordes property sat right in the middle of a planned city park. His property was being targeted for “city improvements”, and this fight had nothing to do with chickens. The chickens were really just the catalyst for the city to unlawfully seize his land.

After initially winning his fight in municipal court, the City of Roswell made Wordes life a living hell.

The Harassment Begins…

  • On Dec. 14, 2009, the city council approved a new ordinance banning roosters and using lot size to limit how many chickens a resident could keep. Wordes claimed that the harassment started immediately after the meeting, when Roswell police ticketed him for no insurance and a number of other moving violations.
  • In September of 2010, Roswell prosecuted Wordes under the new ordinance claiming he had too many birds for his lot size. The judge found him not guilty since he had the chickens before the ordinance became law.
  • In September of 2010, he was convicted of grading sediment on his land without a permit and having inoperable vehicles in his yard. He was sentenced to community service.
  • In November of 2010, code enforcement served Wordes with a nuisance citation. After winning twice in court against the city, the county then got involved and actually cited him for “not properly stacking his firewood.”
  • In 2011, the 84 year-old women who held Mr. Wordes mortgage was harassed by the city into selling Wordes mortgage for forty cents on the dollar. The city then began the foreclosure process. 

  • While in the process of trying to save his home, Andrew Wordes was arrested by Roswell Police on the day that he was to bring paperwork that would’ve delayed his bankruptcy and the foreclosure on his home.
  • Wordes was jailed for violating his probation after the city claimed he only served 122 of the 150 hours of community service that he had been ordered to serve. He then served 99 days in jail.


Then tragedy struck...

I came across this story because of the firewood component. In another video, Mr. Wordes explained that the city actually cited him for improperly stacking his firewood on the ground, instead of on pallets! I suppose this ordinance was initiated by some well-meaning administrator hoping to reduce pest infestations in firewood piles...but are we really at the point that we have laws that mandate stacking of firewood on pallets? If so, I'm going to have to go into the pallet business to keep enough around to stack my ten cords on.

The whole story is really sad, and I think the world is a smaller place without Andrew Wordes, The Chicken Man of Roswell. The reports indicate that his many friends and neighbors think so, too.

I've written before on the impact of runaway regulations on wood businesses, and this takes that and the story of the raid on Gibson Guitar to a whole new level of Orwellian surrealism.

It's hard to believe that we're at the point that folks are getting cited and thrown in jail for back-yard chicken and firewood-stacking violations. And the fact that it all seems to have been a thinly-veiled attempt to take this man's property, for a public park of all things, gives it all a sinister feel, one that warns us that we better think a little more deeply about what we perceive to be our "common good".

Rest In Peace, Chicken Man.


Li said...

They did not dig a ten-metre-deep pit around the 0.97 acre property, did they?

martin said...

You remember the "take back the night" movement? There is a part of our society that thinks government is the best way to accomplish social engineering. That gets us all off the hook. Big Brother takes care of us. Orwellian? Yep. Do they have a problem with it? Nope. So you have 2 options: move somewhere those people haven't gotten to yet, or work to change absurd laws. It takes time, but really you can only move "out" for so long. Those people are right behind you. We do live in a country where if you make your voice heard and it makes sense to enough people, you can change things (maybe not in Roswell. There are other places this has happened) Call me a sappy idealist if you want. But if you don't speak up, you have on one but yourself to blame for the pickle you find yourself in. That, friends, is a big problem in the wood business. We're so busy trying to make a living that we've become bottomfeeders taking whatever is given us. Activism MUST become a cost of doing business, just like regulatory compliance. This rant could go on....

Mike said...

This is a one-sided story. Looks like there were some problems on both sides, but there is no balance to this story of the local government officials, nor do we know any of the back story. If would be interesting if we could hear some more sides of the story.