Long a source of joy – or consternation – downtown ducks were once again a topic of discussion for the Swansboro Board of Commissioners.
The Muscovy ducks are known to range from between Shore Drive and Moore Street down to Front Street, gladly accepting handouts from locals and visitors alike. Over the years the critters have swollen in number to the point that about 15 years ago town commissioners felt compelled to put in place a relocation effort.
Since then, there hasn’t been much talk about the ducks … until Monday, Sept. 14, when James Pearce asked to address the town commissioners under “citizen comments” during the regular bi-monthly meeting.
Pearce opened his comments by noting that one of his downtown neighbors had been caring for a duck and her hatchling. Pearce, who said his visits with neighbors were predicated on his walks around town with his small dog, got a laugh from the commissioners when he pointed out that there was a male duck – “probably the culprit” – that he had seen hanging around.
Getting back to his story, Pearce said of the town’s ducks, “I haven’t fed any, but I’ve seen it done.” And, he added, “I’m all for that.”
What brought him to the commissioners’ meeting though is the fact that a Swansboro Police Department officer had visited with the neighbor to discuss the fact that she was feeding the mother duck and her hatchling.
“He reprimanded her for feeding the duck,” Pearce told commissioners.
Essentially, Pearce said that he was shocked to learn that it was a crime to feed the ducks. “There is no sign to my knowledge … telling people not to feed the ducks,” he said. Not only that, the idea of enforcing such a rule seems rather ridiculous in his opinion, considering there is a four-way stop intersection just up Church Street which, he said, motorists regularly ignore.
“If we are going to use a resource, such as our police officers to do this, let’s back up a hundred feet,” Pearce told commissioners, and enforce the four-way stop at the intersection.
The board meeting of Sept. 14 took place under a hybrid format, with some commission members at town hall and some participating remotely by way of the Zoom platform due to concern over the spread of COVID-19.
The matter of feeding the ducks being a crime was important enough to bring out a few citizens, in spite of the global pandemic. In addition to Pearce, William France, Lena Oglesby and Debra Nye – who admitted to being the neighbor caring for the ducks to whom Pearce referred – spoke on the subject under citizen comments.
France told commissioners he was surprised when he heard about the police making a “duck call” to enforce the ordinance.
“Almost everybody in the world feed those ducks,” France said. “What’s the big deal?”
He told commissioners he has lived in Swansboro, and been around the town’s ducks, for 16 years.
“I don’t have a problem with these ducks in town,” France said.”If you’ve got a problem, shoo them away. I love those ducks.”
Oglesby framed her comments in the same way that Pearce had: there are bigger problems then ducks.
“People drive like idiots,” Oglesby said, and too many ignore parking restrictions.
“The yellow lines are there for a reason,” she said, yet vehicles park in ways that would restrict access for an emergency vehicle. “I’ve had them park right over (my) driveway.”
Oglesby also said she wants the town to replace the street signs, many of which have been missing since the passing of Hurricane Florence in 2018.
“People can’t find where they are or which street is which,” she said.
When asked about the officer’s visit, Chief Ken Jackson of the SPD said the officer was dispatched as a courtesy.
“He just said they were not allowed to feed the ducks,” Jackson said. “It was just cut and dry.”
When Nye took the podium, she explained that after she spruced up her garden at 301 Church St. with fresh pine straw, “They invaded my yard.” With tongue-in-cheek, she was referring to the ducks.
People coming by her house are “delighted” with them, she told the commissioners.
“I did not know until the officer came to my door that there was an ordinance,” Nye said. The visit by an officer of the law was a bit harsh, she added. She said she would have preferred an initial contact with something other than a police officer.
Mayor John Davis and Commissioners Larry Philpott, P.J. Pugliese and Pat Turner were in town hall for the meeting. Commissioners Laurent Meilleur and Frank Tursi, along with Cliff Parson, town attorney, participated via Zoom.
When Nye completed her comments, Davis asked, “How do we help Mrs. Nye?” He asked if the town should call Onslow County Animal Control to remove the ducks.
Nye quickly pointed out that she does not consider the ducks to be a nuisance.
Davis asked Chris Seaberg if there is an ordinance that speaks to the feeding of ducks. Jennifer Ansell, town planner, provided that answer.
She said there is an ordinance. And, while the matter was under discussion, Parson had a chance to review it.
“It’s a very broad ordinance,” Parson said. (See related item.)
Seaberg, hired as town manager in September 2019, said that he was unaware of the ordinance until the matter came up for discussion on Monday, Sept. 14.
He noted that comments indicating he had sent the officer to the Nye home were erroneous. Since the meeting, Seaberg said he has looked into the matter.
“We received a complaint about the ducks,” he said in a telephone interview following the meeting. “The complaint, like all complaints involving code enforcement, came in to Jennifer’s office and Jennifer notified the police department.”
That is the normal course of things, according to Seaberg. the police are called on to enforce code violations.
“I was not involved,” Seaberg explained. “But, as we do with any complaint, we have to investigate.”
Seaberg did not say who filed the complaint about Nye keeping and feeding a duck. But, he said, “An officer from the department made the contact and explained the code.”
The town does keep up with complaints involving code enforcement, according to Seaberg.
“That is the first complaint on feeding ducks that we can see,” he said.
For now, the case is closed, according to Seaberg.
“To my knowledge, there is no more feeding of the ducks right now,” he said.
But, he said later, the issue of feeding ducks on private property could be raised, either by citizens or by members of the board of commissioners.
“If they (private citizens) want to petition the town to consider changing the code, they can,” Seaberg said. “The board can instruct us to do that also.”
For now, Pugliese said he would be OK with the status quo.
“The ducks have been a staple of downtown for as long as I can remember and they are a really cool unofficial mascot for residents and visitors to enjoy,” he said in an email. “That being said I would not be in favor of changing the ordinance. Ultimately it’s best for them to feed on their own in their natural habitats instead of becoming dependent on people to feed them.”
Turner, in an email, indicated that she agrees with the value of the ducks and their presence downtown.
“The ducks have been around for a very long time and I would hate to see them leave,” she said. “They are quite a tourist attraction.” And, she added, “I believe we will look at the ordinance.”
Email Jimmy Williams at email@example.com.
For more on this story, purchase a copy of the Sept. 23, 2020, Tideland News.