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Busting Little Suzie 

Lakewood votes to -- get this -- criminalize the feeding of geese.

Unlike most suburban councils, which tend to resemble Inbreds Anonymous, with their merry backbiting and low-rent buffoonery, the Lakewood City Council is a model of good government.

It's the most densely populated city between New York and Chicago. Its newest housing stock is 70 years old. And though it's home to approximately 12,897 bars, there's no significant industrial base from which to sponge taxes.

Nonetheless, Lakewood has inexplicably managed to thrive. Its commercial strips are dominated by small, local merchants, housing is well kept and cheap, and it's home to an odd combination of working people, intelligentsia, Irish, gays, and Arabs.

Give credit to city government: It's taken a recipe for municipal disaster and created a prototype for first-ring suburbs. Lakewood may not be as posh or prestigious as neighboring Rocky River, but at least its children aren't scared by trophy wives bearing the unintended consequences of plastic surgery.

Yet even good governments are prone to excursions of weirdness. So it is with Lakewood's move to criminalize the feeding of geese. According to Councilwoman Nancy Roth, the action stems from problems at Lakewood Park. "We have very little green space in Lakewood, and hundreds and hundreds of geese were making the park unusable. When I say there was a goose standing every 20 feet, I'm not exaggerating."

Roth says she received complaints from residents apparently worried they'll soon appear on the new Fox special When Geese Attack! And Keith Benjamin, an aide to Mayor Madeline Cain, says the birds have rather prolific bowels. "For a while there, you couldn't walk a foot or two without walking in excrement. I definitely think there's some health issues with that."

So earlier this month, council voted to make feeding punishable by up to 60 days in the slam and a $100 fine, lest the geese be encouraged to overstay their welcome. (Roth expects the penalty to be reduced to $5 to $25 in the coming year.)

Go to Lakewood Park on a Sunday afternoon, and you'll find toddlers running through the flock, Grandpa and Little Suzie tossing breadcrumbs. It's all very wholesome, a little bit of nature in a city where the only wildlife is on Animal Planet. Which raises the question: Isn't nature supposed to be a good thing?

Councilman Michael Skindell thinks so. As a boy, he went to the park with his grandparents to feed the squirrels, and he dares profess heresy when he says, "I think feeding geese is a normal park activity that doesn't hurt anything."

That, regretfully, is the minority opinion in City Hall -- and in Northeast Ohio, where Mother Nature hasn't had a winning season since 1836. When coyotes recently appeared in Lorain County, the response was, "Hmm, I got an idea: Let's shoot 'em!" We won't even talk about ground, river, and lake pollution, which makes metro Cleveland look like a Midwest bureau of Texas, only without the bolo ties and the candy-ass football team.

It would seem time to throw the good Mother a bone. Her team is in tatters, and a little victory on this goose thing might boost morale. As Skindell notes, "The geese were not attracted here by people throwing popcorn. They were attracted by low-cut grass and the safety of being close to the water."

But when politicians are trying to appease their louder constituents, such small matters of logic tend to ride coach. Skindell knows the drill: "Elected officials use this as an effort to make some peace with their constituency, saying they're actually doing something to solve the problem, but it doesn't do anything."

So to make that peace, Lakewood will turn to busting grandmas and preschoolers on charges of aiding and abetting the nourishment of birds.

We've got you surrounded, Little Suzie. Drop the bread, put your hands up, and slowly back away.


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