Aldermen shut down circus due to animal abuse concerns

Published 12:57 am Tuesday, January 16, 2018

NATCHEZ — A circus will not be coming to town next month as planned after city aldermen voted Friday to  not allow circus performances at the Natchez City Auditorium citing animal abuse concerns.

The board’s unanimous vote Friday followed Natchez Tourism Director Jennifer Ogden Combs statement that the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is pressuring the city to prevent the performance.

Combs said the group in charge of a circus planned to occur at the auditorium the first weekend of February had “been on (PETA’s) radar” for prior abuse cases.

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“They’ve described frequently seeing elephants with blood dripping from behind their ears,” Combs said.

Combs said she has received these complaints numerous times despite not being in charge of the facility, which is leased to Christ Life Church by the city.

Combs said to her understanding the lease does not permit animals of any kind in the building, though she was told that the circus needed to contact the city’s animal control officer about acquiring permission to hold such an event there.

Ward 6 Alderman Dan Dillard motioned that City Attorney Bob Latham notify the church that they are barred from hosting circus performances in the auditorium or any other city property. The vote passed 5-0, as Ward 1 Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis was not present.

The circus issue is but the latest development in the already contentious circumstances surrounding the auditorium.

When Ward 2 Alderman Billie Joe Frazier asked how long the city had gone without receiving a payment for the lease, City Clerk Megan Edmonds responded that several years have passed since the last payment.

Dillard acknowledged that the church had spent its own money to improve the auditorium, but that alone did not satisfy the terms of the lease in his opinion.

“It is baffling to me to allow a lessee to determine what they’re going to offset their lease with,” Dillard said.

Based on a suggestion made by Ward 3 Alderwoman Sarah Smith, Dillard motioned that all revenues from the sublease or use of the auditorium to be forwarded to the city clerk’s office until the two sides can resolve the leasing agreement, which also passed 5-0.

Garden Bros. Circus had been scheduled to perform twice on Feb. 2 — once at 4:30 p.m. and a second show at 7:30 p.m. — at the auditorium. As of Monday evening, the group was still selling tickets for the performances on its website.