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Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2008 04:35 pm

For the birds

Council still a-twitter about “bird whisperer”

Untitled Document After weeks of too many questions and too few answers, Ward 8 Ald. Kris Theilen decided that it was time for action. He proposed an emergency ordinance Monday to terminate the city’s contract with James Soules, known as the “Bird Whisperer.” The freshman alderman was confident that his fellow aldermen would support him. The 85-year-old Soules, who owns Decatur-based Bird Repellent Co., is considered a bird-removal expert. His company was awarded a two-year, $164,000 contract in late 2006 to rid downtown of feathered pests. Because his methods are a closely guarded secret, Soules has come under fire from some aldermen, including Theilen. But when the ordinance came up for debate at Monday’s meeting of the public-affairs and safety committee, two other freshman council members — Ward 7 Ald. Debbie Cimarossa and Ward 9 Ald. Steve Dove — voted no, splitting the committee’s vote 2-2 and delaying full council action until at least Jan. 22.
“A couple of people I was counting on didn’t talk to me before making a decision,” Theilen says. Dove says he voted against the emergency ordinance after receiving phone calls from constituents and downtown business owners who believe that Soules’ bird-eradication services are working. Because Soules’ contract is paid through downtown tax-increment financing, Dove says, those business owners should have the final say on whether the contract is terminated. However, Dove now says that he should have voted differently to move the issue along. Victoria Clemons, executive director of Downtown Springfield Inc., says it was a “grassroots” effort by downtown business owners that influenced the aldermen’s decision Monday. In an e-mail sent on Friday, Jan. 4, Clemons informed downtown business owners and individuals of the proposed ordinance and encouraged them to contact their aldermen if they believed that Soules’ contract should be kept in place until it expired. “They want to stick with what is currently working,” Clemons says. “We made our constituency aware of what was on the table, and they responded.”
Clemons also said that a city employee, whom she would not name, told her that city personnel would not continue bird-dropping removal if Soules’ contract was revoked. “We’re not pro- or anti-Bird Whisperer in any way; we just want to have some bird-eradication program in place,” she says. Theilen says he has offered to introduce another ordinance that would place the bird-removal work up for open bidding and is unsure why it was insinuated to Clemons that the emergency ordinance would result in a complete loss of services. Several aldermen have questioned Soules extensively in the past few weeks — especially with regard to his “secret” procedures, asking whether he is using firearms or poison to get rid of starlings and pigeons — but the contract does not require Soules to disclose his methods to the city or aldermen. Soules claims to have acquired his lifelong disdain for birds when he was attacked by an eagle as a little boy [see R.L. Nave, “Fowl play,” April 26, 2007].
Contact Amanda Robert at arobert@illinoistimes.com
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