Sunshine law loophole affects Tiger Haven sanctuary tour

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Commissioners’ tour would be off limits to others

By Damon Lawrence

The public could find itself shut out if the Roane County Commission takes a tour of Tiger Haven thanks to a loophole in the Sunshine Law.
The section regarding public meetings says a “meeting does not include any on-site inspection of any project or program.”
Richard Hollow, an attorney for the Tennessee Press Association, said that means the commission could go on the tour and not have to allow the public to come along.
“If they deliberate public business or decide public business while on this tour that would be a violation of the law,” Hollow said.
One of the resolutions commissioners passed at Tuesday night’s meeting ask that County Executive Ron Woody write a letter to Tiger Haven requesting commissioners be allowed to take a tour of the facility.   
“I get a lot of questions on what’s going on in there and I can’t answer it,” Commissioner Ray Cantrell said. “That’s one of the reasons I’d like to go and I’m sure a lot of other people would, too.”
Tiger Haven is a big-cat sanctuary on Harvey Road in East Roane County.
According to its website, the facility houses more than 280 of the animals.
Most are tigers, lions, leopards and cougars.
Nearby residents have come before commissioners to express concerns about Tiger Haven.
Hollow questions how commissioners could tour the facility and not deliberate with Tiger Haven being such a hot button issue.
“It’s a road that’s full of pot holes,” Hollow said, regarding the law that makes it legal for commissioners to take a tour outside the eyes of the public.
Commissioners also passed two other resolutions regarding Tiger Haven at Tuesday’s meeting.
One asked the General Assembly to adopt a law that protects people from potentially dangerous exotic animals.
The other resolution request information from various departments and agencies regarding oversight of Tiger Haven.