DECATUR — In Councilman David Horn's brief tenure on the city council, the Millikin University biology professor has built a sort-of one-man environmental wing in city government.
Horn was the sole dissenting vote yesterday on a routine city contract with Soules Bird Repellent Co., a local business run by James Soules, which utilizes a secret method to rid large areas of pigeons and starlings. The city has paid the company since 2002 for bird removal in the downtown area, which Public Works Director Rick Marley said has been a concern for business owners.
Horn's concern doesn't come from the Soules family method, which has stayed a secret for decades. Instead, Horn said his issue was that no one from the Soules Bird Repellent Co. showed up at Monday's council meeting to answer questions about the contract.
The company did not respond to a Herald & Review request for comment.
The city approved the new agreement with Soules to pay $73,500 over three years to keep the downtown commercial area, Decatur Civic Center and bus depot free of the unwanted flying creatures.
"I think it's very important that representatives of companies that are in their contracts saying they are going to abide by all environmental laws be present at the council to confirm (that), and it's important that the council be assured that in fact (vendors) are aware of environmental law," Horn said.
Horn, whose research specialty is birds, brought up similar concerns in May when Brian Critchelow of Critchelow Logging Co. answered Horn in a council meeting that he was not aware of the century-old federal law known as the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which sets restrictions on disrupting habitats of certain migratory bird species.
"In the contract, it indicated that the logger would abide by all environmental law, and I think that discrepancy has set a precedent in the Decatur City Council chambers that I am concerned about," Horn said.
Though Councilman Pat McDaniel has professed himself in the past as no fan of "tree huggers," he said vendors who do business with the city should show up to meetings for questions.
"(Soules) should've been here," McDaniel said.
James Soules and his late father Jimmie, both of Decatur, have received its share of media attention over years. A 2005 Chicago Tribune story dubbed Soules the "bird whisperer" for the family's mysterious yet effective craft.
Two years later, the State Journal-Register reported that Jimmie Soules said he had avitrol, a controversial bird poison, but didn't use it for his business, and said he had shot birds in the past, but in general did not use firearms in his work for the city of Springfield.
Councilman Bill Faber sided with Horn in the vote to approve the Critchelow Logging contract in May, but this time around Horn was alone.
"I think my background probably makes me the most aware of environmetal issues, so when these types of issues are raised I think I'm a little bit more aware of what the greater complexities in some of these contracts are," Horn said.
City Manager Tim Gleason said he hasn't received any concerns from local environmental groups or any residents.
"I just know it's a longstanding agreement that the city's had. I believe that this was prompted several years ago by downtown business owners experiencing the waste from a large number of birds," Gleason said.