Over Fuhrman's Objections, Manure Ordinance Passes

City Council member Tom Fuhrman (left) discusses an issue with Mayor Scott Mann as Wallace Edger...

City Council member Tom Fuhrman (left) discusses an issue with Mayor Scott Mann as Wallace Edgerton listens.
At one point Wednesday night, Menifee City Council member Tom Fuhrman left the council chambers, despite a colleague's request that he stay. Later in the meeting, Fuhrman remained on the dais, despite the city attorney's suggestion that he leave.

That pretty much sums up the tone of a council meeting that was at times confrontational, not only among residents and council members, but between council members and one of their own.

Before an overflow crowd at City Hall, the council voted 4-1 to approve an urgency ordinance establishing manure management and disposal standards regarding livestock on property within the city. Ten residents spoke in opposition of the ordinance, especially criticizing the urgency status of the ordinance.

Making the issue even more complex is the fact that the urgency ordinance was in response to a notice of violation filed by the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board regarding a 37-acre ranch owned by Fuhrman. In a notice dated July 31 and addressed to Interim City Manager Rob Johnson, the water control board warned city officials that violations discovered during a June 24 inspection of Fuhrman's Wooden Nickel Ranch revealed "about six to eight inches or horse manure spread over a large area. Runoff from this area flows into the fork (of water drainage) that runs through the site."

The July 31 notice also requested that city officials enact an ordinance regarding control of horse manure to ensure compliance with storm water ordinances. According to city attorney Julie Biggs, failure to pass an ordinance regulating the maintenance of manure would continue the violation, meaning the city would face the possibility of $10,000 a day in fines.

The ordinance approved Wednesday night requires that manure must be removed from "stalls, paddocks, arenas, corrals and other livestock keeping areas on a regular basis," at least weekly, from property where 10 or more animals are housed. Manure must be stored in approved containers and the potential runoff of polutants must be minimized.

In a rural area where livestock is kept on many properties, the ordinance was a sensitive issue. Several residents urged the council to delay a decision on the ordinance until a study could be made of the impact of manure on local soil and water sources. Some said they believed that because of violations found with one resident, many residents would be unnecessarily forced to remove manure they use as fertilizer on their property, believing no ill effects of manure have been proven.

At the start of the discussion, Biggs asked Fuhrman whether he planned to leave the room or recuse himself from the issue because of a conflict of interest. Fuhrman refused to leave, citing advice from his attorney that he had a right to stay and participate.

"You must prove this situation applies to me alone," said Fuhrman, who was told by Biggs that the ordinance will only be enforced when a complaint against a resident is received. Fuhrman insisted he does not have a "blue line stream" (one that flows most of the year and is marked on maps) on his property that could be contaminated and that there is no proof the manure from the dozens of horses boarded on his property pose a health hazard.

"The manure on my ranch is managed very well," Fuhrman said. "If the city had any (expletive), they would make the Control Board prove there's a risk."

Fuhrman was outvoted 4-1 on three council decisions in the meeting. In addition to being the lone "no" vote opposing the manure ordinance, Fuhrman was the lone dissenter in votes on:

-- Approval of two consent calendar items, pulled for discussion by Fuhrman, authorizing a one-year contract of $64,800 to pay in interim community development director and a total of $120,250 to pay an outside company to provide media services and produce a city magazine for distribution to the public.

-- Approval of a Memorandum of Understanding with the Menifee Valley Chamber of Commerce in which the city will partner with the Chamber in planning public events. Cost of the agreement is not to exceed $38,000.

The one time Fuhrman did willingly leave the room came earlier in the evening, when he stepped off the dais at the start of council member Wallace Edgerton's comments regarding Edgerton's previous statements about marijuana use.

In the Aug. 6 city council discussion preceding a vote approving an ordinance that bans mobile marijuana dispensaries, Edgerton said that if one really wanted to get marijuana in Menifee, one could do so. As part of his statement, he said, "You could go to Tom Fuhrman's Wooden Nickel Ranch and they would come running out with a bag for you, I'm sure."

When Edgerton asked to clarify his previous statements, Fuhrman announced he was leaving the room because his attorney advised him not to take part in the discussion. Edgerton told him there was no need to leave, but Fuhrman did so anyway. Edgerton then issued a public apology for his comments, saying, "It was poorly worded and I shouldn't have said it. I talk faster than I think sometimes. I certainly didn't mean to insult Tom."

Water Quality Control Board members reported finding more than 25 horses on City Council member Tom Fuhrman's Wooden Nickel Ranch during an inspection in which they reported violations of water control ordinances because of the accumulation of manure.


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