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031517-Geese

Three geese look for a place to land in Potter's Lake, Wednesday, March 15, 2017, in the early morning at Sunset Marina in Rock Island. Technical Information: Camera: Canon EOS-1D X; Lens: EF 300mm f/2.8L USM at 300mm; Exposure: 1/6400 sec, f/3.5, ISO 800; Manual; Evaluative metering; Natural lighting.

Moline City Council members better have hosed off their shoes Tuesday night before walking into the house. That's the polite response to stepping in it, after all. 

The City Council scuttled a draconian proposal to fine waterfowl-feeding hooligans up to $750 for feeding ducks and geese in public parks.

That's the good news. Now for the bad.

On Tuesday, the council approved the crackdown by a 4-4 vote but with a maximum fine of $100. Mayor Stephani Acri broke the tie. Clearly, Moline City Council heard loud and clear the frustration with such stiff penalties for an activity of which many people carry fond childhood memories. But the reduced fine doesn't change the fact that the ordinance is a ham-fisted solution to a relatively trivial problem. 

Geese, especially, can sully public green space. Almost any local governments on a body of water fields its share of complaints about feces littering the grass and covering walkways. Biologists, too, caution against the detrimental affects of feeding wildlife, particularly the quasi-domestication that ultimately threatens the animal's survival in the wild.

Simply, don't feed the geese. Signs in bold print already say that along the Mississippi River in Moline. And several local governments in the Quad-Cities, years ago, adopted stiff fines for feeding waterfowl. This isn't just a Moline problem.

But more often than not, bad policy comes riddled with good intentions. Moline's crackdown on tossing breadcrumbs is one of those instances.

Policies such as this are precisely the kind that unnecessarily make criminals out of otherwise rank-and-file citizens. It's the type of unforeseen classism that disproportionately hammers the poor. It's a general waste of limited law enforcement resources in a community that's struggling to tamp down gun violence.

Here's a hypothetical:

A local woman is among the unlucky few who actually get caught violating Moline's new anti-goose scat law. She's ticketed and ultimately fined $100. But she lost her job recently, has a few kids at home and simply doesn't have a spare hundred-dollar bill. 

The fine goes unpaid. A bench warrant is issued and this otherwise law-abiding citizen finds herself introduced to the criminal justice system for throwing a hamburger bun to a few birds.

Extreme? Sure. Rare? Probably. Unheard of? Absolutely not. 

Best case scenario, a small mountain of late fees pile up because this unfortunate goose-feeding delinquent didn't pay up by the deadline. At worst, she faces a night or two in jail and a heap of attorney's fees.

Research says it's overly harsh laws and ordinances -- most crafted with good intentions -- that fill county jails and state prisons throughout the country. It's the result of government's predilection in recent decades for criminalizing everything from the trivial and annoying. They're fine ways to generate revenue in some cases. They're blunt, obtuse methods to handling minor inconveniences that carry real-world societal cost. 

There are any number of potential approaches that don't involve a widely unenforceable ordinance that could ruin a few lives along the way. Step up the public outreach with a campaign highlighting the risks to public health and the birds themselves posed by feeding. There are any number of goose deterrents used in cities already, from wooden cutouts of dogs to flashing lights. Hell, invest in a couple golden retrievers whose sole purpose is to occasionally run the geese off. 

Almost any response, including doing nothing, would be better than foisting more fines on people for an otherwise trifling so-called offense. 

Local editorials represent the opinion of the Quad-City Times editorial board, which consists of Publisher Deb Anselm, Executive Editor Autumn Phillips, Editorial Page Editor Jon Alexander, Associate Editor Bill Wundram and community representative John Wetzel.

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