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Danville officials complete 'snakes in a

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Posted by: EricWI at Wed Jun 26 13:36:25 2013  [ Report Abuse ] [ Email Message ] [ Show All Posts by EricWI ]  

Danville officials complete 'snakes in a pool' probe

A recently-aired “Call of the Wildman” episode featuring The Turtleman pulling snakes out of the swimming pool at the William E. “Bunny” Davis Recreation Complex cast Danville in a bad light and exposed local governments to potential legal liability, City Manager Ron Scott reported Monday.

Danville-Boyle County Parks and Recreation Director John Drake should not have signed agreements on his own accord regarding the episode, which Animal Planet officials filmed in September, Scott said. The episode starred Lebanon native Ernie Brown Jr., in his role as The Turtleman, dramatically pulling from the pool what he claimed were poisonous snakes.

Scott, who two weeks ago received the City Commission’s authorization to conduct a formal inquiry into the now infamous “snakes in a pool” incident, noted that neither the city or the county has the right to discipline Drake or any of his employees. Only the Parks and Recreation Board has the authority to hire, discipline or fire employees; that board also is conducting its own investigation, according to Scott.

Mayor Bernie Hunstad suggested commissioners pursue legal action to prevent Animal Planet from continuing to air the episode.

Though commissioners agreed the staged “snakes in the pool” incident was an unauthorized filming that created negative publicity and potential legal liability, no one wanted to pursue legal action.

“(Animal Planet) would use that to get even more people to watch it,” Commissioner Paul Smiley said.

Commissioner Paige Stevens echoed similar thoughts.

“While I’m not proud of it … it’s done,” she said. “Let’s move on.”

Scott noted that Boyle County Judge-Executive Harold McKinney was out of town when Drake and others involved in the incident were interviewed, but McKinney supports the fact-finding effort. The city manager also thanked Drake for his cooperation during the process and noted that Drake was in attendance at Monday’s City Commission meeting.

Scott said he believes Drake’s assertion that no one received money for the “snakes in the pool” episode. The city manager attempted to independently query “Call of the Wildman” producers regarding Drake’s statement but said his calls were not returned. Scott said it is “highly unlikely” Drake received any financial compensation for the filming.

Jennifer Kirchner, executive director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, said she and others working on behalf of economic development work “tirelessly” to promote a positive image of the community and the episode is counterproductive to those efforts.

“As a person who promotes this community, I wouldn’t choose Turtleman,” Kirchner said. “I wouldn’t want him to come anywhere near anything that we do.”

“Promoting people that don’t have teeth — this is not the image that we want to go for.”

However, Kirchner did not render a formal opinion regarding whether commissioners should pursue legal action to stop the unauthorized episode from airing again.

Commissioner Kevin Caudill said he thinks everyone in the community wants to put the “whole snakes in the pool and snakes in the grass behind us.”

Hunstad urged commissioners to go into executive session to discuss possible litigation. City Attorney Stephen Dexter disagreed with the mayor’s request, saying he did not feel a closed session over the “snakes in the pool” incident would be in adherence to state open meetings laws.

After more discussion about moving forward without litigation, Hunstad reminded the group that “we had absolutely no ability to stop (The Turtleman episode)” and that “we should be in control and shape our future.”

The mayor also pointed out the way Brown handled the snakes placed in the Bunny Davis pool was “very unsafe” and could have an impact on “impressionable minds” who think it is an appropriate way to handle poisonous snakes. Officials were never able to determine whether the snakes placed in the pool were dangerous, though The Turtleman claimed they were during the show.

Because commissioners did not support legal action, the mayor ultimately thanked Scott for his report and moved on to the next agenda item.,0,3042743.story


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