Roswell’s ‘Chicken Man’ still battling City Hall

Andrew Wordes fights for his chickens.

After Roswell cited him in 2009 for raising poultry in his backyard, Wordes handed out 500 chicks on the street to promote his cause. Supporters wore yellow T-shirts and “I Love Chickens” buttons to court. His lawyer, former Gov. Roy Barnes, persuaded the judge to throw out the whole city ordinance.

But things didn’t quiet down for the slight, balding 52-year-old known as Roswell’s “Chicken Man.” The city prosecuted him under a new chicken ordinance — and lost again. He’ll go back to court in March to face prosecution under a nuisance ordinance. Roswell police also gave him nine traffic tickets in about a year.

“They’re hammering me because I won’t do what they want me to do, and it all started with winning the chicken case,” Wordes said.

City spokeswoman Julie Brechbill denied that the city harasses Wordes, saying code enforcement actions are driven by citizen complaints. Police Chief Ed Williams said most officers wouldn’t even recognize Wordes.

“We don’t have anything against him,” Williams said.

Mayor Jere Wood, who counts himself as Wordes’ friend, said the city as an institution is not going after Wordes, though some individuals might be.

“Andrew remains in violation of some city ordinances,” Wood said. “His neighbors continue to complain to the city and the city continues to pursue action against Andrew.”

Wordes lives alone in a brick house just off busy Alpharetta Highway. On a recent day he counted 43 chickens and 18 roosters living in coops and a shed in his muddy backyard. Four portly Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs and a chocolate lab wandered the grounds.

Next-door neighbor Keith Badalamente said he hates the disarray, noise and smell of the animals. He and other neighbors have complained numerous times.

“His chickens and pigs are a nuisance,” Badalamente said. “I can hear them inside my house with my windows and door shut.”

A half dozen lawnmowers, old lawn chairs and pieces of fencing and firewood are scattered around Wordes’ yard. Inside, boxes are piled on dusty furniture and old mail is taped to mirrors.

Wordes said his place has been a mess since September 2009, when nearby Hog Wallow Creek flooded his property. He blames Roswell for not having an adequate storm water runoff system and wants the city to buy him out.

The marginally employed Wordes has struggled financially. His electricity is turned off now and then. He lost cell phone service and he said he’s behind on his mortgage. He said he can’t get started again in auto wholesaling.

“There’s no place to put everything,” he said. “I could clean it up but right now my day is spent looking for a job and getting enough to eat. Roswell is on a campaign to destroy me.”

He said it started in February 2009 when the city cited him for raising chickens at his residence. His case mobilized the burgeoning backyard poultry movement in north Fulton County and he became a media figure. The city judge threw out the ordinance because it was too vague.

Wordes said the harassment really started Dec. 14, 2009, the night the council approved an ordinance that banned roosters and linked lot size with the number of chickens a person could keep.

After the meeting, Roswell police ticketed him for no insurance and driving on a suspended or revoked license. He got a broken tail light warning, too. Wood, who raises turkeys with Wordes, bailed him out of jail.

He got other tickets, with all charges bound over to Fulton County State Court.

But code enforcement is what really riles Wordes. That’s why he posted a sign on his property saying, “Trespassers will be construed as a bodily threat.”

“No matter how hard I work, there seems to be someone from code enforcement that keeps breathing down my neck and leaving other people who are doing much worse things alone,” he said at a Nov. 29 City Council meeting.

Alice Wakefield, the community development director, said city employees are just doing their jobs.

“When we get a complaint we’re obligated to follow up on it,” she said. Other than Wordes, she said, only one other complaint has been filed about backyard chickens under the new ordinance.

Former council member Lori Henry thinks the city has been “heavy-handed” in dealing with Wordes.

“At times the voice of reason goes silent when people are angry,” she said, “and he has angered city staffers and some elected officials.”

Wordes’ other next-door neighbor, Sheree Crowe, said she and her husband generally have no problem with Wordes or his birds. But Badalamente has kept complaining, as have other neighbors.

“I didn’t choose to live next to a farm,” he said.

Last September Roswell prosecuted Wordes under the new ordinance, saying he had too many birds. A public defender represented him. The judge found him not guilty, saying Wordes had the birds before the ordinance became law.

At the same hearing Wordes pleaded guilty to grading sediment without a permit and having inoperable vehicles in his yard and was sentenced to community service.

In November, code enforcement served Wordes with the nuisance citation. Wordes said he’s girding for another battle.

“I’m right,” he said, “and I don’t have a problem fighting for what I believe in.”