If board won’t stand for elephants, others must
On Thursday, June 20, I witnessed an exercise in either political flimflammery or political cowardice. The occasion was the regular meeting of the board of directors of the 17th District Agricultural Association (introduced as the Nevada County Fair board) and, more specifically, the public hearing in regard to the contract with Have Trunk Will Travel Inc.
Board President Tom Browning began the public hearing by saying that, since there had been so much controversy around the already signed contract, the board wanted to give everyone a chance to be heard. I must admit, he never did say that the board members would really listen to what was being said.
And quite a bit was said. There were 41 speakers in all, out of a much larger gathering of people. Ten of those speakers, including an owner and another spokesperson for Have Trunk Will Travel, advocated in favor of maintaining the contract. The other 31 speakers, including persons of expertise in the subject area, animal rights advocates, community members, concerned parents and children, all advocated in favor of canceling the contract. The response to each speaker ranged from tepid applause for those who wanted to keep the contract to wildly enthusiastic applause for those who wanted the contract canceled. And when one speaker asked those who favored cancellation to stand, the vast majority of people present rose to their feet.
The arguments and concerns presented to support cancellation of the contract should have been sufficient to give an open-minded person pause — and should have been sufficient to cause the board to at least have further discussion before making a final decision. Those arguments and concerns included safety issues (one speaker specifically directed a question to the board asking what measures were in place in the event of a runaway elephant — a question the board left unanswered), elephant training methods, cruelty toward the elephants, endangered species issues, the fact (stated by persons on both sides of the issue) that Have Trunk Will Travel is first of all a business, not a charity or an educational organization and the fact that numerous other counties and cities have been either canceling their contracts with Have Trunk Will Travel or refusing to sign them in the first place. Add to that the overwhelming presence in the room of a desire to see the contract cancelled, and one would have thought that some discussion in that direction would have been warranted.
However, once the president closed the public hearing, not a word was heard from any board member, and the president declared that the contract would stand. It was interesting, at that point, to watch the close interaction between the board members and persons who had advocated in favor of the contract. It appeared to this observer that the members of the board had a much more intimate relationship with the company people than with the members of their own community — which brings me back to my earlier statement about flimflammery or cowardice. Having watched the whole proceedings, I do not find it difficult to believe that, despite the board president’s opening statement of wanting to hear all concerns, the board had its mind firmly made up, and had no intention of changing it: thus, the flimflammery. It is possible, of course, that in the face of commitments already made (both contractual and otherwise?), the board members could not find within themselves the courage necessary to make an honest response to what the majority present was advocating.
That said, let me add a couple of thoughts of my own to the discussion.
Back in 1865, the United States outlawed slavery. At the time that slavery was legal, some said that it benefitted those who were enslaved — it brought them “out of darkness” and into civilization and into Christianity and that they were better off than had they stayed in their own countries. Somewhat the same arguments are used now in relation to wild animals brought to this country from their own homes. However, slavery is not limited to human beings. Other creatures, including elephants, can be — and are — enslaved, as well.
I live in Sierra County and know that many people from here have attended the Nevada County Fair. Due to the actions of the fair board of directors, I will be using whatever influence I have to encourage them not to do so this year. If the board will not stand up for the elephants, then others must.
Paul Guffin lives in Downieville.
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