By Nick Kotsopoulos
WORCESTER — A proposal to ban the use of wild and exotic animals in traveling shows and circuses is receiving push back from the city administration.
City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. said the proposal raises a number of concerns, including the legal issues created by an ordinance that would ban an activity permitted by state and federal law.
He said it would also trigger contractual issues between the city and SMG, the company that manages the city-owned DCU Center.
In addition, City Solicitor David M. Moore said it is his opinion that any municipal ordinance prohibiting the use of wild and exotic animals in circuses staged in the city would be "invalidated" as preempted by federal and state law.
SMG reports that the circus has an economic impact of $1.5 million during those years it comes to the DCU Center.
That economic impact includes ticket revenue, concessions, merchandise and parking for the approximately 20,000 people who attend the circus shows at the DCU Center.
Mr. Augustus added that about 250-300 people travel with the circus and they use local hotel rooms and purchase goods and services while in the city.
"The effects would also extend to the entire community in terms of local jobs, retail sales and other business activities," Mr. Augustus wrote in a report to the City Council. "It is clear that the proposed ordinance would have legal, operational and economic impacts on the city and the community which must be fully evaluated before moving forward."
Councilor-at-Large Michael T. Gaffney has indicated that he intends to ask his colleagues Tuesday night to remove from the table a recommendation from the City Council Public Health and Human Services Committee, asking the Law Department to review a model ordinance drafted by Born Free USA, a national animal advocacy group.
As part of its recommendation, the committee has also asked the city administration to draft an ordinance along the lines of the model ordinance that would keep out those circuses and traveling shows that feature elephants, tigers, lions and chimpanzees.
The item has remained on the table since the City Council began its new term at the start of the year. Mayor Joseph M. Petty requested that it be tabled until the city administration provided a report on the pros and cons of such an ordinance.
In reviewing the request of the Public health and Human Services Committee, the city solicitor said at least 35 communities nationwide have adopted bans on exotic animal performances.
But he pointed out that most, if not all, of those ordinances exist in communities without a venue appropriate for a large-scale circus performance such as Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey.
Mr. Moore said no municipality with a venue similar in size to the DCU Center has a partial or full ban on the display of exotic animals.
Councilor-at-Large Morris A. Bergman had also asked for a report on whether the city could face liability by adopting such an ordinance.
In response to that request, Mr. Moore said the city's agreement with SMG to run the DCU Center says that if the city adopts policies that "unreasonably interfere or impair the ability of SMG to manage the facility," then the "incentive benchmark" that is part of the management contract must be adjusted to reflect the financial impairment.
The incentive benchmark is the provision in the city's management agreement with SMG that provides the basis for up to 50 percent of the management fee earned by SMG.
"Lowering that benchmark under these circumstances would mean that SMG would earn more of its management fee on less revenue and the city would suffer financially from lower building revenues," Mr. Moore wrote.
The Ringling Bros. circus was last at the DCU Center in October.
Ringling Bros. officials have complained they were never asked by the Public Health and Human Services Committee to present their side of the issue. They said the care and handling of all animals in circuses is subject to considerable and comprehensive federal, state and local animal welfare laws.
The circus is required to obtain a permit each year it comes to Worcester and is subject to inspection by local authorities. Also, circuses are required to obtain permits from the state Department of Fish and Game before entering Massachusetts.
Ringling Bros., which has 143 years of experience working with and caring for exotic animals, performs in more than 125 cities, including Boston, Springfield, Hartford, Providence, Manchester, N.H. and New York City.