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Petting zoo debate takes racial turn

By Staff
REQUEST B.L. Sykes, brother of District 4 Supervisor Q. V. Sykes, asks the board of supervisors on Monday to take temporary responsibility for the animals at the zoo. Photo by Carisa McCain / The Meridian Star
By Chris Allen Baker / staff writer
May 7, 2002
A proposal to kill a planned petting zoo for the county took on racial overtones Monday when black residents accused Lauderdale County supervisors of ignoring their needs.
B.L. Sykes, the older brother of Supervisor Q.V. Sykes, lashed out at Supervisor Ray Boswell the chief opponent of the zoo during the supervisors' regularly scheduled meeting.
Boswell, who represents District 5, defended his record as supervisor. He named nine roads he said he paved in his district in areas that have a majority-black population.
Zoo debate
The exchange between Boswell and B.L. Sykes came near the end of an hour-long discussion about the fate of the zoo planned for the Q.V. Sykes Park in west Meridian.
Supervisors originally voted 3-2 to maintain the zoo. They even hired a part-time employee to care for animals that included sheep, goats, rabbits, ducks and a pony.
Supervisors voted again Monday, this time killing the zoo 3-2. Boswell, Craig Hitt of District 3 and Hank Florey of District 1 voted to kill it; Q.V. Sykes of District 4 and Jimmie Smith of District 2 voted to keep it.
The swing vote was Florey, who originally backed the zoo. Florey said he changed his mind after many constituents told him they didn't think the county needed a petting zoo.
Henry Stringfellow, who was originally hired as a part-time worker to care for the zoo's animals, will remain with the county. Stringfellow now will handle other responsibilities at Q.V. Sykes Park.
New homes
County supervisors now hope to return the zoo's animals to their owners or find other homes by May 20. Until then, the animals will remain at the Q.V. Sykes Park.
But B.L. Sykes and some of the other 40 to 50 residents at the meeting asked the county to hold the animals for 30 days until they could make funding arrangements to keep the zoo open.
Sykes said he and other residents want to explore ways of raising funds privately to cover the cost of the zoo. The county originally voted to spend $13,869 to fund the zoo through September.
Gerald Hudson, another county resident, asked supervisors for compassion and cooperation. Hudson and Sykes, though, presented no specific plan Monday.

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