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Recap: Fair Board upholds elephant ride contract


By: YubaNet

Photo: YubaNet
GRASS VALLEY, Calif. July 17, 2013 - The Nevada County Fair Board meeting on Tuesday was arguably the best-attended board meeting in history. A crowd of over 300 people assembled in the Main Hall of the Fairgrounds, after the fair decided shortly before the start of the scheduled meeting to move it from smaller Ponderosa Hall. The item that drew crowds was the possible reconsideration of a contract with Have Trunk Will Travel (HTWT) to provide elephant rides during the Nevada County Fair.

At their previous meeting, the fair board heard from a wide range of residents opposing the elephant rides, but took no action. With no explanation for their action given, the board came under scrutiny and finally released an open letter explaining their lack of communication.

On Tuesday afternoon, board president Thomas Browning invited the public to comment on the contract. He believed the public had three main concerns, with safety being the first one. Second, the use of animals for entertainment. He stated that "some people in the audience are opposed to this but the fair board is not." Finally, the vendor itself. The board feels that the vendor has a good reputation, that they are loving and caring people, Browning said. He then invited the public to voice their concerns.

After over three hours of public comment, the board was not swayed by scientific information, emotional appeals and statements of safety concerns. The contract, which does not require HTWT to pay any fee to the fairgrounds for occupying space during the fair, will stand. The vote was 7-1.

The board decided not to side with 35 partial or full bans on circus animals in municipalities in the US, in 18 states. [source: ADI Worldwide circus bans]

Below is the real-time account of some of the remarks

July 16, 2013 at 4:15 PM Public comment is starting. Each person will have 3 minutes. The first speaker turned to the audience and berated the "animal activists" asking if any of them would pay for the feed of the elephants if the company was to go out of business. Audience members shouted yes, then a general shouting match broke out with the board president unable to regain control of the meeting for a few minutes. He requested everyone be civil and the audience voiced their agreement.

July 16, 2013 at 4:25 PM The risk of tuberculosis in elephants and the transmission to humans one of the concerns raised.

July 16, 2013 at 4:27 PM Propaganda and shameful attempts to sway the board, that's the characterization of the next speaker of the efforts to cancel the contract.

July 16, 2013 at 4:28 PM "I am a citizen, a mom, a teacher, that's how I define myself, not as an 'animal rights activist'" the next speaker states. She is followed by a Penn Valley resident who points to the safety risks to the public as her main reason for opposing the contract with HTWT.

July 16, 2013 at 4:36 PM Several speakers now telling the board that they are not "animal rights activists," but simply local residents who have concerns.

July 16, 2013 at 4:39 PM A Grass Valley beekeeper is pointing to the possible reaction of elephants to the bees. The Beekeepers Association of Nevada County will have their customary booth at the Fair and the board should be aware of the possible risks, she stated.

July 16, 2013 at 4:53 PM So far, the breakdown of the public comment is 5-1 against the HTWT contract.

July 16, 2013 at 5:05 PM "That boycott sign really pisses me off, I'm sorry," a self-described Nevada County native just said. [a member of the public sitting in the first row has a sign calling for a boycott of the fair.]

July 16, 2013 at 5:06 PM At least another 20 people standing in line to address the Fair Board.

July 16, 2013 at 5:19 PM A 12-year old girl just asked the Fair Board, "Is it really worth it?"

July 16, 2013 at 5:21 PM The Fair Board has stated the elephants are safe, but "What happens if we're wrong?" asks a local resident.

July 16, 2013 at 5:24 PM A teenage member of the audience is listing accidents that happened at public venues - data listed on the Humane Society website and she asks the board to cancel the contract.

July 16, 2013 at 5:30 PM JP Novic, Executive Director of CAPE, just told the Fair Board "You may not consider the way these elephants are treated as abusive, but we do."

July 16, 2013 at 5:47 PM The audience addressing the board is now 22-4 in asking the fair to cancel the contract.

July 16, 2013 at 6:03 PM 26-6 in favor of canceling the contract.

July 16, 2013 at 6:21 PM "A small animal gets lose, small damage gets done. A large animal gets lose, the damage can be very large," says a Sierra County resident opposing the contract.

July 16, 2013 at 6:43 PM More people are lining up to speak, the tally now stands at 32-10. Three more people want to have their say.

July 16, 2013 at 6:50 PM The safety of the fair-goers appears to be the major concern, as well as the alleged abusive training methods.

July 16, 2013 at 6:54 PM "Base your decision on what's best for the business of the Fair, not on emotion," A supporter of the elephant rides says.

July 16, 2013 at 6:58 PM "Is it really worth it? It's really bad PR for this fair," the mother of a Boy Scout tells the Fair Board.

July 16, 2013 at 7:09 PM Barry Pruett, a Penn Valley resident and former candidate for Clerk-Recorder, just got up because he felt compelled to speak up because "somebody called this a community of backwards hicks." He strongly disagreed.

July 16, 2013 at 7:14 PM The last speaker just finished his remarks.

July 16, 2013 at 7:14 PM Browning thanks everyone for expressing their views and asks the board members if anyone wants to make a motion. A motion to reopen consideration of the contract is greeted with a standing ovation.

July 16, 2013 at 7:16 PM "I made this motion because it is very important to be transparent. We're talking about a contract, a motion has to be made to be able to discuss the issue at all," Skip Lusk says.

July 16, 2013 at 7:18 PM The motion to reconsider the contract passes unanimously.

July 16, 2013 at 7:19 PM Board discussion now.

July 16, 2013 at 7:19 PM "Notwithstanding the emotion and the opinion, my vote will be to uphold the contract," a board member states.

July 16, 2013 at 7:20 PM Board member Shanti Emerson shares her experience of riding elephants and seeing them in the wild. While she has heard that HTWT is the best in the industry, she doesn't want a divisive issue in the community and will vote to rescind.

Board member Simi Lyss disagrees with the majority of the public and intends to vote to uphold the contract.

July 16, 2013 at 7:25 PM Another board member reads a USDA letter to HTWT - citing the excellent safety record of HTWT.

July 16, 2013 at 7:28 PM "I spent hours and hours on this, because it is dividing the community," says board member Karen Henderson. She cites studies saying performing elephants are doing better than elephants that are simply being kept in enclosures.

July 16, 2013 at 7:32 PM Skip Lusk reiterates that it is a contract issue, not an emotional or ideological issue. "We have two contracts in my opinion. One with a vendor and one with a community where we have advertised what we were going to do. I will vote to keep the contract as is."

July 16, 2013 at 7:40 PM The motion to maintain the contract with HTWT passes by a 7-1 with Shanti Emerson being the lone No vote.

July 16, 2013 at 8:59 PM We asked Shanti Emerson, the lone vote to rescind the contract, to explain her decision. Here's what she told YubaNet: "I was truly torn between the testimony of the many many people concerned about possible animal abuse and safety issues and also being bullied into making decisions with 'or else' type threats. Complicating my situation further was the fact that I love riding elephants and have had a lot of experience in India not only on pachyderm's backs but seeing them keep their cool in rowdy wedding processions. I've also witnessed them laboring on roads. This was not easy for me especially since my fellow board members, whom I love and admire, were leaning the other way. Because of the abuse allegations, safety issues, and divisiveness of our community, I voted to rescind the contract."


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