Asheville City Council gives the boot to animal entertainment

Asheville City Council voted on July 28 to revise the city's animal ordinance, banning animal entertainment, like circuses, from occurring within the city limits. Flickr photo by Laura Bittner.

After introducing new Asheville Police Chief Tammy Hooper and new Water Resources Director Jade Dundas, the Asheville City Council said, “Thank you; Thank you very much,” to late rock ‘n’ roller Elvis Presley at the Tuesday, July 28 meeting.

Mayor Esther Manheimer read aloud the story of Elvis in Asheville, from his sold-out three-day Civic Center performances in July 1975 to his death two years later, in August 1977 — just ten days before a scheduled return to Asheville.

Mayor Esther Manheimer reads Elvis' Asheville legacy to festively dressed journalists. Photo by Hayley Benton
Mayor Esther Manheimer reads Elvis’ Asheville legacy and rock-holiday proclamation to festively dressed journalists. Photo by Hayley Benton

Forty years later, Ashevilleans still remember — and they want that second performance.

With help from Elvis Elliston and Elvis Sandford (Jon Elliston of Carolina Public Press and Jason Sandford of Ashvegas, dressed in costume), Council proclaimed July 30, 2015, Elvis in Asheville Day. The rock-holiday will be celebrated at the Orange Peel, where attendants will view a mini-documentary of the star’s time in Asheville, listen to a performance by Elvis tribute artist Carlo Martini and sock-hop to an Elvis-themed dance party.

Circus-free Asheville

Next up on the agenda, Assistant City Attorney Jannice Ashley presented the proposed revisions to the city’s animal ordinance.

At a Jan. 9 meeting, the Governance Committee changed a U.S. Cellular Center booking policy to exclude events that include performing wild or exotic animals. The change, a request from local animal advocacy group Asheville Voice for Animals, sought to prohibit circuses with animal acts from appearing at the event and expo center.

Following this decision, the Council began to consider prohibiting these types of events from all city venues.

Changes include altering the definition of “wild animal,” retaining the definition of “exotic pet” and adding a definition for “wildlife sanctuary” to the ordinance. The new definition of wild animals uses umbrella terms such as “nonhuman primates” and “all felines other than domestic house cats” rather than listing specific species to ensure all animals are protected. Also added under the definition: elephants, camels and any hybrid of the animals already listed (prohibiting the use of wolf-dog hybrids and other similar creatures in human entertainment).

Ashley explained that wildlife sanctuaries will be allowed within the Asheville city limits, so long as they meet the requirements laid out in the new definition, meaning the facility is provides adequate care and refuge for abused, neglected, unwanted or displaced animals — and not as a space for commercial, entertainment or breeding purposes.

In the animal care section of the ordinance, Ashley says she was “surprised to see there was an exception for zoos, animal exhibitions and circuses.” The amendment to the ordinance eliminates this exception to ensure equal care for all animals.

Though the city is effectively banning animal-performance entertainment from its boundaries, Ashley explained that zoo and aquarium outreach programs will still be allowed, so long as the organizations are accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which, she references, “sets a high bar” for “high quality” animal care.

During public comment on the topic, Nancy Brown, founder of Full Moon Farms wolf-dog sanctuary in Black Mountain, asked the Council to postpone decision, saying wolf hybrids are often multiple generations removed from their wild ancestors.

“These dogs are not wild animals,” she firmly stated, concerned for her right to bring her dogs to charity events in the city.

Later in the discussion, Councilman Cecil Bothwell asked: “Full Moon Farm is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. It’s in Black Mountain, but if it were in Asheville, would it be allowed?”

Ashley answered that, yes, under the wildlife sanctuary definition, it would.

Members of Asheville Voice for Animals also spoke at the meeting, saying that the changes to the ordinance are a win-win for Asheville, for animals and for children who won’t grow up thinking abuse and disrespect for animals in entertainment is OK.

The revisions to the animal ordinance were approved, 6-0.

Parking garage discussion stalled

Next on the agenda was a $390,000 contract with Chartwell Staffing Solutions.

Transportation Department Director Ken Putnam presented the proposition, which would contract employees through Chartwell for the city’s parking garage staffing needs.

Options listed in the contract, Putnam explained, would increase overall cleanliness of the city’s four garages, including power-washing, general cleaning, restroom painting and steam-cleaning options — as well as options to paint and seal the stairwells and “overhaul” the elevators in the three older garages.

Also, Putnam says, the Civic Center garage turns 35 this year and is approaching the end of its life. Therefore, the city is considering heavy-duty structural maintenance that would take place in 2017.

Though Vice Mayor Mark Hunt expressed embarrassment at the cleanliness of city parking garages, he asked the Council to consider postponing the decision until the company can come back with “a more comprehensive cleaning strategy.”

Bothwell, confused by Hunt’s reasoning, asked him what he was hoping for in the specifics.

Hunt explained that, though the city recently increased its budget for garages by 14 percent, the grime found in city garages has only gotten worse. With this expensive contract, he’d like to hear about specific plans, detailing the extent of what the company would do, as garage cleanliness is a top priority — not just an option.

The contract would also extend the hours of garage restrooms, for which most council members voiced their support.

Currently, garage restrooms close at 6 p.m. in winter, 10 p.m. in summer — which is just around the time people downtown start drinking, Hunt said. Though restroom clean-up needs increase during the night, he said, well, “People need a place to go” — a place that’s not garage stairwells.

The Council agreed to postpone the decision until Chartwell can give a detailed analysis on the cleaning efforts it expects to complete.

LEAF asks City Council to invest in the youth

Though not printed on the agenda, one more item appeared before the Council on Tuesday evening. Representatives from LEAF requested $15,000 from the city for their ongoing efforts to bring the arts to youths in underserved communities.

“It’s my pleasure to tell the story of what the arts can do for kids,” said Jennifer Pickering from LEAF for Youth.

The two initiatives needing city funding? The Easel Rider mobile art lab and the One Mic Studio at Burton Street Community Center. Both initiatives are designed to instill a love for the arts that these young Ashevilleans might not discover on their own.

Councilwoman Gwen Wisler voiced her concern that the request for funding did not appear on the Council’s agenda until late July. Requests from nonprofits were heard at scheduled meetings in the spring, before the year’s budget was approved.

Rather than make an amendment to the budget, the money LEAF requested is to be absorbed by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. “What programs would be cut because of this?” Wisler asked.

City Manager Gary Jackson agreed, saying he would be uncomfortable approving a shift in funds this early on in the fiscal year, which began July 1.

Traditionally, this kind of request would be presented during the city’s once-per-year budget-centered meetings, acknowledged Hunt, and it’s unfortunate that LEAF’s request does not align with the city’s schedule. However, he continued, both campaigns are worthy of city funds.

Pickering approached the podium once again to apologize and explain that the late request was due to both a misunderstanding of the city’s process and several unreturned inquiries from as far back as November.

Ultimately, the funding for LEAF’s two programs was approved 5-1, with Wisler opposing.

Jan Davis recognized by Civic Center Commission

During public comment, the Civic Center Commission presented a “surprise” request to name a portion of the center after Councilman Jan Davis, who, not seeking re-election in the fall, was essential in helping the center receive much needed upgrades.

The “Jan Davis Craft Beer” Corner, Manheimer joked, will (seriously) be on the agenda at the Council’s next meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 11, at 5 p.m.

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About Hayley Benton
Current freelance journalist and artist. Former culture/entertainment reporter at the Asheville Citizen-Times and former news reporter at Mountain Xpress. Also a coffee drinker, bad photographer, teller of stupid jokes and maker-upper of words. I can be reached at hayleyebenton [at] gmail.com. Follow me @HayleyTweeet

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9 thoughts on “Asheville City Council gives the boot to animal entertainment

  1. HuhHuh

    “Mark Hunt expressed embarrassment at the cleanliness of city parking garages”

    If it’s the de-facto homeless shelters and bathrooms, it’s going to suck.

  2. Barb

    I wish the general public would speak up…I doubt if Ashville Voice for Animals speaks for the majority. They’re just the loudest and most persistent.
    Asheville consistently had large crowds when Ringling Circus was in town…to the point where if you were even a little late getting your tickets you ended up in the nosebleed seats. Last minute attendees often stood in line. This was not in the long ago past but recently I was one of those who waited too long for my tickets.
    The audience clapped and cheered when the animals came out. Families enjoyed themselves.
    This is sad for our town .

    • maxine luker

      very sad for asheville to be lead by the nose by animal rightists. they will be setting their sights on our domestic animals soon. these people let their human emotions guide them. they do not speak for they animals, those are just the incoherent voices rattling around in there. i’m guessing some of them never had to much joy in their lives so they want others to be as miserable

    • Nanette Holliday

      It’s very sad to me that Barb and Maxine Luker feel that their need for so-called entertainment comes before the rights of sentient animals that have been stolen from their environments, taken from their large, closely bonded family groups, transported for hours in rail cars, prodded viciously with bull hooks, made to perform unnatural acts for human’s selfish desires and the greed of circus owners, deprived of sunshine and the natural need to run 30 miles and more per day. Are you aware that it is the babies who are most priced and kidnapped from their bellowing mothers who are most often killed. Those babies cry for their mothers. It is the animal protectors that work diligently each and every day trying to educate people about what goes on behind closed doors. It is interesting and dismal that people like you feel the need lash out when caring individuals disturb your conscience. I am proud to work on behalf of those who have no voice. Anyone will a sense of morality can see this is wrong. We are not God and we should not continue using wild animals or any animals for our own selfish need to dominate. Perhaps you would change your mind if you view some videos and wake up to the reality of animal abuse in all it’s forms. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eDMyEHY6ELs

  3. Elizabeth

    And another city council swallows the animal rights agenda and moves a step closer to their goal of ENDING all animal ownership. THE ANIMAL RIGHTS AGENDA SETS FORTH THE GOALS FOR ENDING THE USE OF ANIMALS
    The following agenda represents the “animal liberation plank” offered by animal rights activists for inclusion in the 1987 Green Party Platform. It was first published in Animals’ Agenda magazine in November 1987.
    1. We are firmly committed to the eventual abolition by law of animal research, and call for an immediate prohibition of painful experiments and tests. The billions of dollars disbursed annually by the National Institutes of Health for animal experiments should be rechanneled into direct health care, preventive medicine, and biomedical research using non-animal tests and procedures. In addition, the government should fund projects to develop and promote non-animal technologies where they do not yet exist so that animal experiments may be rapidly phased out. In the meantime, procedural mechanisms must be established to allow for greater public scrutiny of all research using animals.
    2. The use of animals for cosmetics and household product testing, tobacco and alcohol testing, psychological testing, classroom demonstrations and dissection, and in weapons development or other warfare programs must be outlawed immediately.
    3. We encourage vegetarianism for ethical, ecological, and health reasons. As conversion of plant protein to animal flesh for human consumption is an energetically inefficient means of food production, a vegetarian diet allows for wiser use of the world’s limited food resources. Livestock production is a major source of environmental degradation. Furthermore, a shift in human diet from animal foods to plant food would result in a lower incidence of heart diseases and cancer and better health generally. Vegetarian meals should be made available to all public institutions including primary and secondary schools. Nutritional education programs currently administered by the Department of Agriculture should be handled by an agency charged with promoting public health rather than promoting the interest of agribusiness.
    4. Steps should be taken to begin phasing out intensive confinement systems of livestock production, also called factory farming, which causes severe physical and psychological suffering for the animals kept in overcrowded and unnatural conditions. As animal agriculture depletes and pollutes water and soil resources, and destroys forests and other ecosystems, we call for the eventual elimination of animal agriculture. In the meantime, the exportation of live farm animals for overseas slaughter must be regulated to ensure humane treatment. Livestock grazing on US public lands should be immediately prohibited. Internationally, the US should assist poorer countries in the development of locally-based, self-reliant agricultural systems.
    5. The use of herbicides, pesticides, and other toxic agricultural chemicals should be phased out. Predator control on public lands should be immediately outlawed and steps should be taken to introduce native predators to areas from which they have been eradicated in order to restore the balance of nature.
    6. Responsibility for enforcement of animal welfare legislation must be transferred from the Department of Agriculture to an agency created for the purpose of protecting animals and the environment.
    7. Commercial trapping and fur ranching should be eliminated. We call for an end to the use of furs while recognizing Western society’s responsibility to support alternative livelihood for native peoples who now rely on trapping because of the colonial European and North American fur industries.
    8. Hunting, trapping, and fishing for sport should be prohibited. State and federal agencies should focus on preserving and re-establishing habitat for wild animals instead of practicing game species management for maximum sustainable yield. Where possible, native species, including predators, should be reintroduced to areas from which they have been eradicated. Protection of native animals and plants in their natural surroundings must be given priority over economic development plans. Further, drainage of wetlands and development of shore areas must be stopped immediately.
    9. Internationally, steps should be taken by the US government to prevent further destruction of rain forests. Additionally, we call on the US government to act aggressively to end international trade in wildlife and goods produced from exotic an/or endangered fauna or flora.
    10. We strongly discourage any further breeding of companion animals, including pedigreed or purebred dogs and cats. Spay and neuter clinics should be subsidized by state and municipal governments. Commerce in domestic and exotic animals for the pet trade should be abolished.
    11. We call for an end to the use of animals in entertainment and sports such as dog racing, dog and cock fighting, fox hunting, hare coursing, rodeos, circuses, and other spectacles and a critical reappraisal of the use of animals in quasi-educational institutions such as zoos and aquariums. These institutions, guided not by humane concerns but by market imperatives, often cruelly treat animals and act as agents of destruction for wild animals. In general, we believe that animals should be left in their appropriate environments in the wild, not showcased for entertainment purposes. Any animals held captive must have their psychological, behavioral, and social needs satisfied.
    12. Advances in biotechnology are posing a threat to the integrity of species, which may ultimately reduce all living beings to the level of patentable commodities. Genetic manipulation of species to produce transgenic animals must be prohibited.

  4. Its usually the loud ones that win. Sad though. Well another place with no circus animals. People cannot think for theirselves anymore. In the future i guess we do have something to look forward to. We can blame these people for not having one animal around. Do they not understand every animal has a role on earth? opps…forgot im canceling all of my future trips to Asheville! I dont deal with snooty people.

  5. Donald Kendall

    I would like to reply to the comments made by Donald McClelland, Maxine Luker, Barb, and others that may want to criticize City Councils action. Please do not do not think City Council was caving-in to a bunch of animal loving radicals. Rather they were educated to the fact that exotic animal circuses constantly abuse their animals, the extent of which (including death) is a well kept secret and not known by the general public. They were also told that Ringling Bros. has been fined several times, including one of $270,000 by the USDA for their horrific abuse of animals. They were also made aware that 60 municipalities in 19 states have enacted similar exotic animals circus bans, of which Chapel Hill is one. Also, 28 municipalities in Canada, and 9 large countries such as Great Britain, and Mexico have also enacted similar bans. So there was a bit more to it, much of which you probably were not aware of. I am glad they listened to the “loud ones” and applaud City Council’s action in helping to stamp out this type of animal abuse. If you want to see exotic animals you can go to a AZA accredited Zoo. If you want the thrill of a circus there are many such as Cirque du Soleil that do not use exotic animals.

  6. very happy to hear these animals are no longer available to perform circus acts – they were born in the wild and that,s where they should live. so called human beings have enough entertainment to satisfy themselves without watching animals that spent their lives being “TRAINED” to perform. get over yourselves and leave the animals live in their natural environment – far too long waiting for this change = greedy beings at the expense of everything else by those who object

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