Commissioners growl over Hurley's Tiger Haven bill inaction

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By Damon Lawrence

Roane County Commissioners passed a motion Monday night that requests Republican state Rep. Julia Hurley to appear before them to explain why she didn’t file a bill on their behalf.

The commission voted 15-0 in January to request that the Tennessee General Assembly adopt a law to require tracking devices for animals housed at Tiger Haven.

State Sen. Ken Yager sponsored the bill in the Senate. Hurley did not sponsor it in the House.

“I’m really disappointed in the inaction to not sponsor this bill in the House,” Commissioner Randy Ellis said. “What’s even more disturbing is the line of communications have broke down, and she’s not addressed why she’s not went forth to do this.”

“She intentionally thinks that our position was wrong,” Commissioner Bobby Collier added. “It don’t agree with her position on Tiger Haven. That’s why she refused to file it.”

Hurley told the Roane County News she had several reasons for not sponsoring the bill.  

“One, the bill wasn’t brought to me in enough time to fully read over it and understand what I would be signing, and from what I read in the proposal, I did not see a funding mechanism for the devices,” she said by e-mail. “Also, there are no tracking devices on any of the animals at the area zoos. The TWRA stated on several occasions that Tiger Haven is SAFER than the zoo.”

Hurley also pointed out she is sponsoring a bill that would allow county officials to accompany TWRA officers on inspections of Tiger Haven.

“I believe that once a local person can report back to the County Commission, that the fear of the unknown will subside slowly,” she said.   

Tiger Haven is a big cat sanctuary in East Roane County.

The facility, which houses lions, tigers, leopards and cougars, has rankled some nearby residents and county officials for years.

“I feel that the County Commission has many county issues that need to be focused upon and their time would be better served discussing those issues and not Tiger Haven,” Hurley said.

The motion to request that Hurley come before the commission to explain her inaction on the tracking device bill passed 13-2.

Commissioners Ron Berry and Stanley Moore were the two who voted against it. Berry said he was disappointed Hurley didn’t file the bill, but cautioned the commission about taking on its state representative.

“I think we just need to be careful and take a deep breath maybe before we start sending messages and demanding that people show up before us,” he said.

“I agree that we certainly need to be careful,” Commissioner Steve Kelley said. “We don’t want to make anybody mad, but I think it’s perfectly reasonable to ask her politely that she answer some questions for us.”

Hurley seemed receptive to the idea.

“If they truly feel this is the best use of their time, and the constituents of ALL of Roane County, not just the residents surrounding Tiger Haven, then I will meet with them on a day I am in Roane County,” she said.