Albany chicken veto override vote

Dominick Calsalaro speaking ahead of the veto vote

Councilman Dominick Calsolaro speaking ahead of the override vote.

The push to allow backyard chickens in Albany came to an end Monday as an override attempt of the Jerry Jennings' veto failed to get enough votes in the Common Council .

Mike Guidice, who along with his wife Jen Pursley has been leading the chicken coalition, was disappointed -- and talking about what's next.

The override vote

Here's how the override vote broke down. The override needed to be approved by a super majority of 10 votes (the council has 15 members). A vote of "yes" was a vote in favor of the override. (council members' vote on the ordinance itself):

Yes: Calsolaro (y), Conti (y), Commisso (y), Fahey (y), Golby (y), Konev (y), O'Brien (y), Smith (y) -- 8 votes

No: Bailey (n), Freeman (n), Herring (n), Igoe (n), Jenkins-Cox (n) -- 5 votes

Not present: Rosenzweig (n), Sano (n)

The ordinance had passed 8-7 -- two of the no votes would have had to swing to override the veto. So, Monday's outcome wasn't much of a surprise.


Mike Guidice and Brenda and John Helm
Mike Guidice talking with Brenda and John Helm.

The public comment period ahead of the vote included three people speaking in favor of the chicken ordinance. Two of them were Brenda and John Helm, the Niskayuna couple that was forced to give up their chickens by the town. They're currently pursuing legal action and pushing to protect "micro-farming" rights in Niskayuna. After the vote, Brenda Helm said they didn't think the Albany ordinance make or break their case, but she said they both felt it was important to support the cause. (Interestingly, the Helms come at this issue from what sounds like a libertarian perspective -- we're going to try to follow up with them.)

One person spoke specifically against an override -- a man from the Melrose neighborhood (uptown) who, after speaking with his neighbors, said he believed there was a "silent majority" in the city against backyard chickens.

Dominick Calsolaro, the ordinance's sponsor, spoke ahead of the override vote, asserting his belief that the public does support the legislation. And he criticized the mayor's stated reasons for the veto, including concerns about the cost of administering the permit system:

... but [the mayor] gave no figure. When asked, "How much is it going to cost?" -- you have a department head that knows buildings and codes -- "How much did he tell you it's going to cost the city to do 50 whole permits out of the whole city?" No money. We got an excuse [imitating mayor's voice] "Well if one person loses his job over this..." OK ... I doubt he's going to lose his job over the hens -- he may lose his job over [the mayor's] fiscal mismanagement ... but he's not going to lose his job over the hens.

(If you haven't heard Jerry Jennings' reasons for the veto, here's a clip of him explaining his action in May, along with some easy-to-scan quotes.)

Post game

A few questions with Mike Guidice after the vote

Mike Guidice spoke during the public comment period ahead of the vote, thanking the council for taking up the issue, and called the experience an "eye-opening process."

After the vote, he talked about how he never expected his family's backyard chickens would lead him into local politics. "I think we did good and I think everyone involved in the campaign can be really proud of themselves."

The day Jerry Jennings announced he was vetoing the ordinance, the chicken coalition released a statement criticizing the mayor and calling for voters to "fix" the problem at the polls. Monday night Guidice reiterated that he thinks the city needs new leadership:

[This experience] really opened my eyes up to the necessity of, if we're going to be a city with forward thinking policy, if we're going to be a city that's setting precedent on issues like sustainability, economic development... we're going to need to change our leadership, especially on the executive level. That's just a reality. It's something we're going to have to do. It's not where I started with the chicken thing. But it's something I'm completely convinced of, from seeing the chicken thing through, and really realizing how the executive branch is working in our city.

Toward the goal of getting new leadership for the city, Guidice is now involved in with an org called Albany Votes -- which he says is a non-partisan push to get more people in the city registered to vote and informed about how city government works.

And it all started with chickens.

The Albany chickens saga

+ Jennings vetoes Albany chicken ordinance
+ Scanning tweets on the Albany chicken veto
+ Albany backyard chicken ordinance passes
+ Of government and chickens
+ Pecking at the Albany backyard chicken issue
+ Changing Albany's chicken laws


Okay, this is only tangentially related, but the whole urban chicken thing has recently hit close to home and I'm not sure where to get an answer to my question, so I thought I'd try here.

Let me say first of all that I am wholly in favor of backyard chickens; I live in Troy and I'm proud that my city allows them. It was my understanding, though, that only hens are allowed; no roosters. Thing is, one of my neighbors definitely has a rooster in their flock, a fact that I'm reminded of every. single. morning. At about 5:30.

I'm not trying to be a stick in the mud, honest I'm not, but I really would like to get a full night's sleep one of these days! Is there anyone I can contact about this?

S, Troy's city code is published in full and searchable at

1) look and see if in fact roosters are prohibited.

2) call the police to complain if they indeed are.

s- how about starting with the bad neighbors? If they are unresponsive, move to other methods, but I think that people's unwillingness to talk to neighbors and get the government involved in their interpersonal complaints is a major reason why we have cities which feel it's their place to over-regulate. If talking to other people were the strategy of first resort, rather than calling the city, the city wouldn't be so motivated to overstep its bounds.

I am sad for the folks who've been working so hard for this. I hope they keep at it, only instead of submitting to the overregulation that this bill included, pushing for a true urban right-to-farm law.

Thank you to Mike and Jen for raising, and so well pursuing, such a timely and vital topic: The right of families to be able to provide for themselves and their family through self-sustaining, environmentally responsible, and community-friendly activities. Please do not give up!

I am greatly concerned that the Albany government is attempting to create a "second class" of citizens that are required to overcome obstacles to animal companionship that are not presented to any other class of citizens. I hope the new ordinance proposal they will draft with the assistance of their local lawmakers will be fair to all, cover all raised concerns, and be properly vetted by the Albany common council prior to being presented for approval.

We can make the world a better place... one chicken coop at a time.

Sarah - You're totally right, and that's definitely what I'd do, except that I don't know who owns the rooster in question. I live downtown, and my bedroom window faces an alley. Directly across the alley are 4-5 separate backyards, all attached to multi-family dwellings, that I can't see into. There's a rooster in one of them, but I have no idea which one.

Ike - I took a look at the city code, and I actually found nothing regarding chicken-keeping at all. There's a ban on "horses, cattle, sheep or swine running at large" and a provision about snakes, but a search of the whole code for "chicken" comes up with nothing. I would imagine that this particular issue would be covered under the "animals" section of the noise ordinance, though.

Although I agree with the concept of micro-farming (I have fowl illegally in my back yard in Albany), I'm glad that this bill was vetoed and the override failed. This law contained so many obstacles to farming that it would have made it completely ineffective.

Yes, it would have helped out Mike and Jen. The most of us who continue to raise fowl would have never participated in the permitting policy that would have contained far too many hurtles.

Perhaps next time around, any proposed bill will focus instead on micro-farming rights and not just a single backyard coop.

To S,
Just go and knock on all of the doors one by one and very politely ask "Does anyone living here happen to own chickens?" The worst that will happen is they will look at you a little funny, say no, and close the door. It's likely that if the rooster is waking you up, it's disturbing other neighbors, as well. So, I expect you'll probably get a response like "No, but the guy two doors down does!" If all say no, then I suppose you have no other choice than to call the city and report the noise violation.
Good luck!

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