A monkey wrench in the works: Residents file suit against local government bodies over primate facility

Published 4:29 pm Monday, February 19, 2024

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Safer Human Medicine’s planned primate breeding facility continues to be mired in legal disputes. Initially, the Decatur County Commissioners admitted in a January meeting that they did not properly notify the public of the project’s December meeting, rendering their agreement to tax abatements not legal. Next, the Bainbridge-Decatur County Industrial Development Authority was cited by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) Environmental Protection Division for land disturbing activities without the proper permitting and not following best management practices. Then, following the Development Authority’s consideration of revoking its bond agreement for the facility, Safer Human Medicine filed a legal complaint against the Authority, seeking to enforce the prior agreements.

Now, local residents have filed their own suit against local government bodies for their conduct around the project. The residents listed as Plaintiffs include June Faircloth, Chad Dollar, Kristina Martin and Lisa DaSilva, who have filed a Complaint for Relief against the Defendants: the City of Bainbridge, Decatur County, the Decatur County School District, the Decatur County Board of Education, and the Decatur County Board of Tax Assessors.

In the filing, the citizens argue that the Tax Assessors, County, and Industrial Development Authority did not publish any prior notice of the meeting, as required by the Open Meetings Act, and further argue that none of the government bodies published proper agendas, and some of the meeting minutes did not include all necessary information, such as member attendance or even records of voting.

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Notwithstanding the pervasive and complete failures of the Defendants to comply with the Act at the Special Called Meeting, and notwithstanding that the Project and PILOT Agreements were signed without the required authorities and approvals, SHM has announced its plan to proceed with Project Liberty and is seeking to enforce the contracts against the Defendants,” the filing reads.

The citizens are seeking injunctive relief against all Defendants to prevent any performance of the project agreements, saying, “Unless an injunction is issued, Defendants will continue the acts and omissions complained of herein and Plaintiffs will have no adequate remedy at law.”

In addition to injunctive relief, the neighbors are also seeking for relief in the form of declaratory judgement, that each government defendant did not properly follow the requirements of the Open Meetings Act, rendering their decisions both not binding, and unenforceable against the government bodies. They additionally seek their attorney’s fees and litigation expenses, as well as “other and further relief as this Court may deem just and proper.”

Residents are not just taking their grievances to court, as other residents continue to organize demonstrations downtown. Aside from hosting regular prayer meetings concerning the project, some took to the corner of West and Shotwell on Monday to demonstrate against the project. Despite the city putting out a joint statement with the Development Authority and Board of Education saying they “stand with our partners in opposition to this project”, some residents are still skeptical.

“We read the statement, but it doesn’t suffice to the people,” said Yvena Merritt. “We still don’t feel safe from this thing, we know they can still push forward some kind of way… We know it’s not over yet.”

Merritt has been a part of the citizens organizing against the project, and expressed her intentions to continue “making sure that the locals are informed about what’s going on, and they have both sides of the situation”.

She also criticized SHM’s focus on the involvement of PETA in the matter.

“They keep saying ‘PETA this, PETA that’, it’s not PETA. It’s the citizens, the citizens are mad!” she said.

The Post-Searchlight will continue to provide updates on the court case as they become available.