BRYANT — Some locals are maaaaad.
They say Mollie, Hampy and Bandit are baaaaad.
And that makes Celia and Larry Kaufmann saaaaad.
Perhaps a bit of background is in order.
Mollie, Hampy and Bandit are goats who live in the Kaufmanns' backyard. In fact, the couple has kept goats as pets for two decades.
But there’s a problem. Goats, along with all hooved livestock, are prohibited within village limits. A long-lingering code-enforcement citation is bubbling to a head, and the Kaufmanns fear a judge soon will order them to get rid of their beloved goats.
“Life used to be good here,” says Celia Kaufmann, who is prone to tearing up when talking about the goats’ fate.
“Now life is hell here.”
Bryant’s 220 residents live about 30 miles southwest of Peoria in the middle of Fulton County. Commerce consists of a roadhouse and not much else.
Bob Wight says the village was a lot messier when he moved to Bryant two decades ago. Townsfolk tended to hoard and pile junk in their backyards. But village officials, including Wight as mayor for the past 10 years, have pushed for a cleaner community. Village codes prohibit “clutter and debris.” And though code complaints are rare, Bryant residents nowadays tend to keep their properties tidy.
“It’s a lot better now,” he says.
The Kaufmanns would disagree. They prefer a live-and-let-live approach to governance. Then again, they’re looking at two code violations.
Celia Kaufmann, 60, and Larry Kaufmann, 54, have been married 28 years. All that time, they’ve lived along the end of Demoss Street. Their home is a weathered, peeling miner’s shack that sits on four acres, including woods out back.
Between the woods and their backyard, there’s a stretch of semi-rough terrain and brush surrounded by 48-inch-tall livestock fencing and dotted with three tin shelters. About an acre, the fenced lot is the roaming grounds for the Kaufmannss three pet goats. The couple have kept a series of the animals as pets over the past 20 years, as many as five at a time.
“We never had any trouble before,” Celia Kaufman says.
I’ll take her at her word, especially as there’s no real way to check. The village doesn’t keep records or information on the web (“We don’t do online,” Mayor Wight says), nor will the village discuss any legal histories (“I can’t talk about litigation,” says Wight, who also serves as the village’s code-enforcement officer).
Wight says Bryant sees just a handful of code violations a year. Even a small number tends not to sit well with townsfolk.
“When you’ve got a small community, that’s where you get into problems,” Wight says. “You go from ‘How you doing, Bob?’ to ‘You S.O.B.’”
Wight won’t talk about the Kaufmannss pending citations. As for their origin, the Kaufmanns believe a neighbor, upset about a verbal run-in with the couple, called the village with a complaint. However, that neighbor says the village had been making a sweep regarding litter, warning residents to clean up or else, and the goats ended up in municipal cross hairs.
Whatever the case, in spring 2018 the village issued two citations to the Kaufmanns: one for “general clutter and debris” and one for “livestock within the village of Bryant.” Such cases are handled by judges at the Fulton County Courthouse, and violations can be punished by a fine of $100 to $250 a day.
The couple hired attorney Michael Doubet of Peoria, who for more than a year has appeared in Fulton County Court on their behalf in search of solutions.
“The judge and the village attorney have been very understanding,” Doubet says.
The litter concerns seem to have been addressed, as the Kaufmanns have tidied up their backyard. It still hosts a hodgepodge of items — tubs, tires, pallets, bicycle parts — but they’re stacked in neat piles. So, there’s a good chance the litter violation will be dismissed.
The goats are another story.
“It’s tough,” Doubet admits.
The livestock ordinance, which has been on the books for four decades, is clear: Not only are livestock not allowed within village limits, but goats are specifically mentioned in the ban. Granted, the ordinance apparently had not been enforced with the Kaufmanns before. But there’s no getting around the fact that they have three goats that are not legally allowed to be there.
“I feel really bad for them,” Doubet says. “They’re nice people. The goats are part of their family, as they see it.”
Plus, as he points out, it’s not as if goats just popped up in the middle of an urban residential area. They long have lived on the wooded edge of a small town in an agricultural county.
“It’s a rural area,” Doubet says. “The goats aren’t loud. I don’t think they’re creating an odor.”
Still, the ordinance is black-and-white. So, Doubet has been poking into nooks and crannies of law books in search of a goat-friendly loophole. So far, each possible opening has been statutorily slammed shut.
For instance, Celia Kaufmann’s doctor has provided a letter vouching that she has a “disability” in coping with stress and anxiety, which she could better handle with “emotional support animals.” Celia Kaufmann sees this letter as legal justification for backyard goats. However, Doubet says neither the Americans with Disabilities Act, nor any other law, would override a local livestock ban. So she could get a comfort dog or another comfort animal not prohibited by the village, but not a goat.
“We really can’t get around that,” Doubet says.
While Doubet continues to look for legal wiggle room, the deadline is coming up quickly: The case is to be heard before a judge Aug. 5.
Trig Mead, attorney for the village, doesn’t see how the goats can get around the ordinance.
“The ordinance is clear,” he says. “It seems like black-and-white.”
Doubet wonders if maybe the Village Board could amend the ordinance to allow goats. After all, the village already allows ducks and chickens, as evidenced by the loud crow of roosters often crackling through Bryant.
But Mead said neither the board nor the Kaufmanns have asked him about looking into a change in the ordinance. So, such a remedy seems unlikely before Aug. 5.
If the judge rules against the Kaufmanns, they’re not sure what they will do. They don’t have any place else to take them. And, per the possible fine, they can’t afford to keep the goats for $100 to $250 a day.
Celia Kaufmann wishes the village would grant a waiver just for Mollie, Hampy and Bandit. Sobbing, she says, "I just want to keep them until they die."
The oldest goat is 12. The youngest is 9. The Kaufmanns' goats usually live to about 14.
PHIL LUCIANO is a Journal Star columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, facebook.com/philluciano and (309) 686-3155. Follow him on Twitter.com/LucianoPhil.