published Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

Raccoon invades Legislative Plaza

NASHVILLE -- Stealth, cunning and daring often are considered prized attributes in the political world of Tennessee's Legislative Plaza, the sprawling state government complex filled with legislators' offices and committee hearing rooms.

But officials are trying to draw a line when it comes to what they believe is a stubborn raccoon who moved in weeks ago and now scutters above ceiling panels. Earlier this week, the animal launched a strike on the legislative cafeteria's kitchen.

Torn tiles fell to the floor.

"Due to the damage done to the kitchen by Mr. Raccoon, the cafeteria will be closed the rest of the week," said a sign posted Tuesday.

The sign features a cartoon rendition of a grinning, bushy, ring-tailed animal with the characteristic mask of black fur around its eyes.

Connie Ridley, director of legislative administration, said employees with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency are trying to capture the raccoon, whom some staffers have dubbed "Rocky."

She said the animal appears to have been attracted to the first floor of the underground facility's parking garage, where cafeteria food dumpsters are located. From there, Rocky apparently moved into the plaza through a series of ceiling ducts, she said.

"It scratches and makes all kinds of racket," said legislative secretary Sharon Peters, gesturing toward the ceiling in the office suite where she works. "This isn't like a little mouse skittering across. This is like 'whompf.'"

Ms. Ridley said the critter has ignored baited traps set out to catch it without injury. TWRA officers are expected to be back today and may have to call in a colleague with more specialized trapping skills, she said.

"We want to be able to relocate this animal," Ms. Ridley said.

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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