The first business item on the agenda honored demand from animal rights activists to strengthen the city’s animal ordinance. Recent changes to policy at the US Cellular Center prohibited circuses, and there was concern that smaller circuses might spring up in other parts of the city. Council was being asked to prevent abuse or harm to animals through training for unnatural stunts for show. Specifically, staff was requesting a ban on “events [that] include any performing wild or exotic animals;” and that led to a need to redefine wild and exotic animals.
That, of course, extended into what kinds of animals people could keep. For example, now that America is multicultural, sensitivity was needed toward communities that consider elephants and camels domesticated. However, the potentially “dangerous” characteristic of these animals trumped their “domestication,” so they were enumerated as “wild.”
Councilman Cecil Bothwell asked why deer were scratched from the list of wild animals. Assistant City Attorney Jannice Ashley said she removed turkeys from the list, too, because they are not accepted into rehab facilities. At council’s request, they were added back to the list. Despite an inquiry from Bothwell, elk were not added to the list. Meanwhile, wolfdog enthusiasts were assured the ordinance changed nothing about allowable interactions with those animals.
During public comment, Robbie Coleman, a member of Asheville Voice for Animals, encouraged members of council to prohibit smaller-scale exhibitions. She told of felines being kept in cages, declawed and defanged. She demonized Hugo Liebel, who rents an old, arthritic elephant named Nosey out for children to ride.
Dianne Prescott, one cofounder of Asheville Voice for Animals (AVA), spoke about the correlation between animal abuse and antisocial personality disorder. She quoted child psychologist Sujatha Ramakrishna of San Jose, saying, “’When parents take their children to the circus, they indirectly send them the message that animals are objects to be used, and it is OK to ignore any pain or suffering these animals might be experiencing. These children may grow up lacking empathy, or the ability to understand the feelings of others.’” Prescott added, “Animals do not want to be in the circus, and they are being forced to perform. Teaching children to appreciate them for what they are will help them develop empathy and respect for all living things.”
Lafayette Prescott, also a cofounder of AVA, told of protesting the Ringling Brothers at the Civic Center. He surmised the patrons about him and humanity in general had, “accepted animal exploitation for human entertainment as a way of life.” AVA was formed to oppose the “cruel and abusive training methods” of the circus. A week after last year’s circus, animal rights advocates began discussions with the mayor to make sure it would be Asheville’s last.
Following that discussion, Transportation Director Ken Putnam spoke about cleaning the downtown parking garages. The agenda had advertised only a discussion about contracting with a different company for part-time labor in the Parking Services Division. The contract was unchanged; the only difference was another company had come in as the low bidder this cycle.
Putnam spoke about possibly beefing up the city’s garage cleaning crew of two fulltime and two part-time employees. A contract for pressure washing is expected to close if the other party performs well on its audition. The contract discussed on the agenda would cover general cleaning, but another contract will be needed to paint the restroom walls. Putnam paused somewhat before adding, “Again.” Putnam searched for words as he explained a contract was needed to steam clean the restroom floors, which were, after another pause, “attracting stains.”
In addition, the elevators in the three oldest garages needed overhauling; those in the Civic Center garage are now 38 years old, cable-operated, and made of parts approaching obsolescence. Putnam said the stairwells for the three oldest garages need to be painted and sealed, and then smoothly segued into suggesting the restroom hours be extended to 10:00 instead of just 6:00 p.m.
Putnam mentioned a few more initiatives, and then Vice Mayor Marc Hunt also struggled for words, saying he was, “embarrassed at the state of affairs from a cleanliness standpoint.” Hunt suggested waiting to see what the total need for contract/temporary labor was going to be before going about things piecemeal. He suggested continuing month-to-month with the old contractor, Asheville Staffing, which is supposed to be helping the low bidder, Chartwell Staffing, grow into the position.
It was looking almost as if certain leaders were looking for a reason to override the results of the bidding, so Bothwell asked Hunt to explain why the temp contract couldn’t be addressed immediately. Hunt said fourteen months ago, council had to up its contract with Asheville Staffing from $89,000 to $130,000; and since then, “the cleanliness is getting worse.”
Following a suggestion by Jan Davis to extend the garage hours even more, Bothwell articulated what everybody else was afraid to. “Urinating in the stairwells is the core problem,” said he.
Hunt noted the restrooms close as alcohol consumption increases. The restrooms were first closed at night because usage was overwhelming them. “People have to find a place,” he reasoned.
Manheimer suggested “Well-placed cameras might inhibit such use.”
“Or encourage exhibition,” replied Davis. He thought it “terrible” for city council, which strives so hard to brand the city as a tourist destination, “to have to have this discussion.”
When all was said and done, council decided to postpone approving the contract in order to consider the entirety of the need for temp and contract labor in Parking Services. City Manager Gary Jackson said, without contest, he heard council directing him to take care of stairwell cleanliness no matter the cost. The matter will return to council ASAP.