YARBROUGH COLUMN: Looking at some serious monkey business in Bainbridge

Published 2:28 pm Monday, February 26, 2024

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Today, dear readers, let us turn our attention to some serious monkey business currently taking place in the Great State of Georgia. And, no, I’m not talking about stolen elections and fake electors. I’m talking about monkeys. Real live monkeys.

It seems that Bainbridge, the home of University of Georgia football coach Kirby Smart and one of my all-time favorite political characters, the late Gov. S. Marvin Griffin, has a new claim to fame. It is the proposed site for the largest monkey-breeding facility in the U.S., which would house 30,000 long tailed macaques, a species native to southeast Asia. While the local chamber of commerce lists as one of its goals to improve the quality of life for all, I’m not sure this was what they had in mind. Certainly, the monkeys wouldn’t argue with that.

The monkeys would be sent out from Bainbridge to universities and pharmaceutical companies for medical research. To my knowledge, no one has shared that small detail with the monkeys. With all due respect to Bainbridge, the macaques would probably prefer to keep their longtails in the jungles of southeast Asia and let the mice deal with the universities and pharmaceutical companies.

Given that Bainbridge’s population is 15,000, that works out to 2 monkeys per resident. Not many towns in Georgia can make that claim. (Hey, Thomasville. How many monkeys per capita do y’all have? Ha! Ha! Eat your heart out!”)

It may have been that point of pride that led the Decatur County commission, the Bainbridge city council, the local school board and the local development authority to approve the 200-acre complex complete with tax abatements being proposed by the facility’s owners, Safer Human Medicine.

As for the prospect of having 30,000 monkeys in town, Rick McCaskill, executive director of the Development Authority of Bainbridge & Decatur County, said, in effect, big whooping deal. “There are going to be a lot of monkeys, there’s no question. We got more cows in the county than we got people, too, and we got more chickens in the county than we have people, too.”

In the pantheon of politically-tone deaf comments, that ranks right up there with Marie Antoinette’s “Let them eat cake.” There is some question whether Marie Antoinette actually said that. There is no question this guy did.

So, the politicians dutifully approved the project to welcome this new monkey jungle to town. That is, until they didn’t. The local homo sapiens, although greatly outnumbered by chickens and cows, ripped the city and the county a new one. After the uproar, the county, city, school board and development authority quickly withdrew their support for the monkey breeding facility.

“We heard the public outcry. We heard the public saying they didn’t want it here. There have been a lot of comments and questions asked, and we thought it best for the unity of our community to vote against this project,” said Pete Stephens, Decatur County Commission chairman. To put it in terms Mr. McCaskill can understand, that bunch of chicken politicians were cowed.

Not good enough, say the locals. “We want to see every single person who voted, every board that voted against it, we want to see them admit that they made a mistake or were misled or whatever all led up to it,” June Faircloth, a Bainbridge resident, told the media. “We want to totally rescind the votes, we want it stopped, we want it completely stopped. Not just promises, we’re tired of that.”

Now, Safer Human Medicine is seeking an injunction against the county commission for rescinding the agreement. The decision on whether a monkey breeding facility will come to Bainbridge now rests in the hands of an appeals court. Local residents have filed suit against local government bodies, charging that the tax assessors, county and the development authority did not publish any prior notice of the meeting to approve the project, as required by the Open Meetings Act and that proper agendas were not published and that some of the meeting minutes did not include member attendance or records of voting.

I am told that the longtail macaques, who were never consulted about the facility or the prospects of moving from southeast Asia to southwest Georgia, are contemplating their own legal action. It is their contention that the ones needing to have their heads examined are the local politicians and facility owners who came up with this poorly executed, cockamamie idea in the first place. I agree.