Thursday, July 09, 2015

Oconee County Animal Control Board Refused To Support Animal Control Department Director’s Call For Tougher Laws

Board Openly Divided

The Oconee County Animal Control Advisory Board yesterday afternoon refused to support Catlyn A. Vickers, director of the Oconee County Animal Control Department, in her request for increased powers to investigate complaints about animal abuse in the county.

Board member Helen Fosgate made a motion calling for a strengthening of the county’s animal control ordinace, but the motion died for lack of a second.

The Advisory Board also refused to endorse a call for a new animal shelter, saying instead it wanted to study the issue more.

The Advisory Board even had trouble electing new officers and approving the minutes of the last meeting, showing a body badly split and with a majority at odds with Vickers and her staff.

Foster Program

About 15 people attended the meeting, and most clearly were there to support the staff and its foster program for animals at the shelter.

Advisory Board support for that program is mixed.

While all members said they appreciated what the volunteers had done, Advisory Board member Janet Caplin said that the program should be split off from the Animal Control Department in the next two to three years.

She made her argument after Crystal Berisko, adoption rescue coordinator, told the Advisory Board that the Department has had a 200 percent increase in adoptions in the last year due to the foster program.

Davis Appearance

Susan Wells, chair of the Animal Control Advisory Board, asked that the agenda be modified at the beginning of the meeting yesterday to allow Board of Commissioners Chairman Melvin Davis an opportunity to speak.

Davis, who does not attend meetings routinely, began by praising the Advisory Board and thanking its members for their service to the county.

Davis said he was representing the Board of Commissioners in asking the Animal Control Advisory Board to consider making changes to its bylaws.

Davis did not make suggestions, but he passed out copies of the existing bylaws as well as others the Advisory Board has operated under in the past.

At the most recent meeting of the Advisory Board, those bylaws had been in contention, according to the minutes of that meeting in February.

Minutes In Contention

At that meeting, according to those minutes, County Administrative Officer Jeff Benko told the Advisory Board that its role was to advise rather than to govern the Animal Control Department.

Those minutes–but not the summary of Benko’s comments–were contested at the meeting yesterday.

Board Secretary Fosgate said the minutes she had prepared had been edited by members of the Advisory Board and did not reflect what had taken place at the meeting.

Wells called for approval of the minutes despite the objection, and Advisory Board members Calpin and Claire Hamilton joined her in approving the minutes. Fosgate voted against the motion for approval.

Hamilton had not been appointed to the Advisory Board until April 7 and gave no indication she even attended the Feb. 11 meeting.

Motion By Fosgate

During the new business section of the meeting, Fosgate said she wanted to revisit the request by Vickers at the previous meeting “to strengthen the ordinance to allow the animal control staff to investigate the premises when they get complaints about possible hoarding situations and puppy mills next door.”

Vickers spoke in support, saying the ordinance at present restricts what she can do. “All I can do is issue a citation for unsanitary conditions, proper care. That’s it,” she said.

Hamilton was outspoken in opposition, as the clip below shows. She offered a variety of objections and said “This is not a police state, and there are certain rights under the Bill of Rights that need to be preserved.”

OCO: Hamilton On Property Rights from Lee Becker on Vimeo

Benko told the Advisory Board that County Attorney Daniel Haygood was still reviewing the existing animal control ordinance. He did not indicate what changes were being considered.

Vickers told the Advisory Board the changes being considered are not adequate.

Following the discussion, Fosgate made a motion that the Advisory Board “support Animal Control in their request to strengthen the ordinance,” but the motion died for lack of a second, as shown below.

OCO: Fosgate Proposal from Lee Becker on Vimeo

The video of the entire discussion is at the end of this post.

New Facility

Vickers told the Board of Commissioners last year that the present facility used by the Animal Control Department, located in the far south of the county off U.S. 441, is inadequate and that its location limits the services the Department can provide the county.

Vickers was making the case for funding for a new facility through the county’s Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, which voters approved last November.

Benko reminded the Advisory Board yesterday that $750,000 was included in the SPLOST funding, but he said that money would not start coming in until October of this year, when the tax goes into effect.

Benko said the county would have to study whether the current facility could be renovated to make it more suitable or whether something new at the existing location or elsewhere should be built.

Fosgate had drafted a letter–at the request of the Advisory Board–that called on the Commissioners “to plan for a modern facility that could serve as a model for the region.”

The other three members of the Advisory Board refused to approve the letter as written, saying it wanted to drop that request and only tell the Board of Commissioners that there are problems at the existing facility.

Department Budget

Vickers briefed the Advisory Board at the front of the meeting on the Department’s budget, which the Board of Commissioners approved in May.

Vickers had requested $543,269 in funding, including for two new full-time positions. She received $393,485, which did not include funding for the two new positions.

That new budget was only $9,676 more than the budget for the year before.

Vickers had told the Board in her budget request that “it is imperative to provide the requested staff to insure the high standards and quality required to service the community property,” but she said yesterday that the Department had to accept the funding provided and do the best it can.

Election Of Officers

The Advisory Board needed to elect its officers for the year, and Wells indicated yesterday she was willing to stay on as chair.

Gail Wiley, vice chair, did not attend the meeting yesterday, and Wells nominated her for re-election.

Fosgate said she would not be willing to continue as secretary, and Calpin agreed to take over that position.

Fosgate voted against the election of Wells and Wiley and for the election of Calpin.

Advisory Board Appointments

When the county advertised for three vacancies on the Animal Control Advisory Board this spring, 13 people applied, all but one of whom attended the BOC meeting on March 31 to be interviewed.

Of those 13, seven said they were currently serving as a volunteer at the animal shelter and an eighth said she was seeking to be on the Advisory Board to offer support to Director Vickers.

The full video of the interviews is below.

OCO: Animal Control Interviews from Lee Becker on Vimeo

Board deliberations on citizen committee appointments are held in closed meetings following the interviews, so it isn’t possible to know what qualifications of the candidates played a role in the final selection.

When the Commissioners announced their decisions on April 7, none of the eight volunteers or Vickers’ supporters were on the list of those to be appointed.

Advisory Board Composition

Instead, the BOC reappointed Wells, who lists herself as a “dog sports enthusiast” on her application and has served as a judge at dog sporting everts, according to several listings on the web, including one at the Oconee River Kennel Club this March.

It also appointed Hamilton, who listed her involvement in dog clubs, including the Oconee County Kennel Club, on her application. She told the Advisory Board yesterday she owns a kennel.

The third appointee was Tom Beacorn, who told the BOC during his interview he was involved in showing dogs. He did not attend the meeting yesterday.

Among the three previously appointed Advisory Board members, Calpin also is active in the Oconee River Kennel Club.

Gail Wiley did not attend the meeting yesterday, but Wells said she was speaking for her at several points in the meeting.

Wiley, in her 2014 application for appointment to the Advisory Board, only listed her two previous terms and activity on the Chamber of Commerce agribusiness committee as qualifications.

Fosgate is a retired science writer. She wrote on her application in 2014 that she wanted to "support the staff and objectives" of the Animal Control Department.

So the new Animal Control Advisory Committee is heavily weighted in favor of dog breeders and dog sport enthusiasts rather than the casual pet owner.

Public Comments

Six people spoke during the public comment section of the two-hour meeting, and four of them argued for the value of the foster program.

Animal Control’s Berisko also spoke, arguing for a stronger ordinance.

Wells cut her off, saying she was exceeding the five minutes allocated for public comment.

Benko suggested that next time Berisko be given time on the program itself for any comments she wanted to make as a staff member so that the time restriction did not apply to her.

She had spoken as a staff member in updating the Advisory Board on the foster program.

Video Of Discussion Of Motion

The discussion of Fosgate’s proposal that the Advisory Board give Vickers and her staff increased support through a strengthened ordinance lasted just more than 19 minutes.

One of the more pointed disagreements was between Hamilton and Fosgate on chaining or tethering of dogs.

Hamilton said “tethering” was sometimes necessary to train dogs, while Fosgate said “chaining” dogs was harmful to them.

That full video is below.

OCO: ACB 7 8 15 clip Fosgate Proposal from Lee Becker on Vimeo


Anonymous said...

Wow! This sounds like you have people on an animal advisory committee that would support dog fighting as long as it is on private property, as well as animal abuse and hoarding! I thought Oconee County was a little more enlightened, but I see we still have people that think it is OK to mistreat animals and block stronger laws to protect animals from abuse. Hopefully ASCPA and others will see this blog! How disgraceful!

Xardox said...

Interesting doings in the various smaller departments which matter. While much attention and lots of money surround the construction in the far north end of the county, the general welfare of all of the citizens seems to be a maelstrom of discontent and shaky disagreement.
Interesting. One wonders how long this has been going on.

Anonymous said...

What part of "advise" not "govern" do these clowns not understand?

Anonymous said...

I think the fact that only 13 people showed up for the free vaccinations, and all of them are volunteers at the facility, says that the staff did a pretty horrible job at getting the word out rather than them having a location issue. I, for one, pay pretty close attention to things and never heard anything about it.
Also, studying whether we should improve the current facility before we decide to build a new one is a very smart thing. The government spends enough of our money willy-nilly and I appreciate our County not being that way.
I have had occasion to have dealings with Animal Control several times over the past several years and have always found the staff and officers to be top drawer.

Anonymous said...

As a citizen of Oconee County, and a dog owner of three rescue dogs and one non rescue dog, I found the Citizen Advisory Board for AC does not represent true Oconee County citizens. Shame on the BOC and Melvin Davis for this shameful appointments to such an important advisory board. We need appointments to this board that support good decisions and ordinances that make sense. Director Vickers has the safety of our citizens and the protection of animals in mind. She does not have any other agenda unlike the majority of the Board.

Ian Spies - A Lover of Animals said...

13 people showed up for the vacancies (openings) not vaccinations. The BOC is responsible for posting openings, not the shelter staff. Posting is done on line only, I asked and there is no newspaper advertizing. There were many shelter volunteers who showed up for the meeting and within the 20, about 9 applied.

From the shelter volunteers who applied, the BOC didn't appoint any, they appointed dog breeders and/or those who show dogs, self interest groups. As a person who frequents the shelter facility, I invite those feeling a new shelter is not needed, take a tour and allow shelter staff or the director to show you the many many problems being delt with; plummbing, storage, water pressure, space, flooding, location, etc.

Thank you for exposing these board members for who they are and what they represent. The BOC should have never appointed these individuals; Wells, Calpin, Hamilton, and Beacorn. It's a monopoly.

Anonymous said...

It should be noted that the foster program, which facilitates higher numbers of adoptions, was started and implemented by volunteers. In my limited experience at the shelter as a volunteer dog walker, I have the impression that the inside care is poorly managed. Here is an example: morning of July 4 at a regularly scheduled dog walk, the staff left early without cleaning completely or checking on water for the animals. This was in spite of having additional help there who were mandated to clean in order to fulfill community service hours. They were sent away so the staff could leave early. A Volunteer and her daughter cleaned, as well as walked dogs, and I helped with the dog walking. It seems that some of the staff they have is not doing their jobs. This ought to be checked out before more money is thrown their way. Perhaps an audit is in order, or a consultant could be hired to investigate, before big money decisions are made.

Anonymous said...

After reading the dog walker blog, I contacted the shelter to see what time they open to the public: noon on M,T, TH, F and Saturday, at 11. The staff come in a 8 on these days and it takes 3-4 hours to clean properly. If NO community service (court appointed) come, then the shelter staff do it all. If you arrive between 8-9:30, of course it's going to have a stinky smell.

What about the other times you were there and not a holiday? Have you been there after they cleaned? I have and not just after, I've been there several times in the afternoon and seen staff scooping poop between 2-3 and cleaning cat boxes on a regular basis.

Talk to the commissioners about getting more kennel help. People should find out the reason why before making an incorrect statement. If this same person would come during public hours, they would know the difference.

The Walker Coordinators wanted to make the time earlier because of the heat and didn't want to take a chance with over-heating the animals. This was something the shelter didn't agree upon easily because the shelter wouldn't be clean, and this is the reason why.

Why do people always have to complain, have to find something wrong, the shelter has and does wonders with what they have to work with. What about the other days people walk dogs? Is it being cleaned when you come back?

Anonymous said...

"I think the fact that only 13 people showed up for the free vaccinations, and all of them are volunteers at the facility, says that the staff did a pretty horrible job at getting the word out rather than them having a location issue."

Advertising and marketing is solely the responsibility of Jeff Benko, Administrative Officer and his department. Individual departments are not supposed to be experts in advertising and marketing. Animal Control staff members are supposed to be knowledgeable in actual animal control. Getting the word out to the public is the responsibility of the Admin. Department.

Also, Claire Hamilton is OUT OF CONTROL! Melvin and commissioners appointed her! Claire, do the honorable thing, and step down and allow a county resident without your clear personal motives serve on the board in your place. Your comments are ridiculous and embarrassing.

The commissioners must do a better job with their appointments. Example: Rick Waller serving as Chair of the very important Industrial Authority, while he does business with the county with his own company, an incredible conflict of interest.

Anonymous said...

According to the Oconee County Animal Control departmental website, the responsibilities of the department include "investigate reports of animal cruelty and neglect" and "rescue sick and injured animals." It would appear the four members of the board who oppose strengthening the ordinance lack the compassion one would expect from someone who sits on an advisory board that advises on animal welfare issues. What could the BOC possibly have been thinking?!

Ian Spies said...

It still isn't free vaccination it's vacant positions; vacancies. Sorry, but one has nothing to do with the other. When the shelter has a vaccination clinic it is always a success due to extensive promoting.

Anonymous said...

It sounds like Jeff Benko needs to get involved with this organization. There seems to be a lot of problems, and possibly animal suffering.

Unknown said...

As a manager for PetSmart Inwork with a lot of animal welfare groups. The Oconee County organization is as good as it gets.

Anonymous said...

Anon 6:59...Jeff Benko?? He sure did a great job supervising the Public Utilities Department!!??
Melvin Davis runs the shows, and poorly at that.

The Animal Control staff is hard-working and performs their jobs well. 100x better than our county commissioners do.

Anonymous said...

All I can say is Animal Control is doing a fantastic job. I never thought I would be supportive because, well, it's animal control, however I have been out to the somewhat small facility and have visited them at Petsmart. They are doing so much to save all adoptable animals. In fact one of their staff members mentoined that since they started the foster program adoptions have gone up 200 percent and they have not had the need to euthanize any adoptabe animals. Thank you for allowing such a successful program to succeed. I also understand that it is run by volunteers and funded by donations. Other Animal controls should learn from them.
Shame on the advisory board for questioning this program and not wanting to stregthen ordanances that protect animals and the public. Why would anyone not support dog chaining laws or licensing of breeders, oh, its because they have an agenda. SHAME ON OUR BOC especially Melvin Davis.

Anonymous said...

Wow - Shame on BOC! Our local shelter has done a fabulous job with their foster programs resulting in not a single adoptable dog being euthanized. To think of not allowing the foster program to continue is the same as giving a death sentence to these animals who are fostered. Also, fostering frees up staff time so they don't have to clean as many kennels. What a shame that the new board is so pro breeders. I do not think the Board is representing the typical Oconee resident or dog owner. Here we are trying to raise all this money for a dog park - I'd rather that money go to save dog's lives!

Anonymous said...

As an RN who reads a lot of research, the verdict is in, those who abuse animals grow up to abuse humans including elders. In a county as enlightened as Oconee is supposed to be, this is just plain wrong. The Advisory Board the is ruling needs to be disbanded in favor of one who has the best interest of the animals and the agency as their main focus.

Anonymous said...

How did these people get on the animal board for God's sake?! Melvin Davis and the BOC should be taken to task for appointing dog breeding Tea Partiers to an advisory board. This is an injustice for the animals, the shelter staff, and the county! Time for new leadership, Oconee!

Ann B. said...

I am disgusted with the way our local government has allowed this Animal Control Board to transform into a branch of the Oconee Kennel Club instead of having it be what it was intended to be - an advisory board for the Oconee Animal Shelter. There seems to be a conflict of interest when so many of the members are dog breeders. Why was there not one person chosen from the many that were actively working with the shelter? What kind of a Chairperson orders the Secretary to amend the minutes of the last meeting? If things were actually said or done, it has to be written down. If you're ashamed of something you did or said, don't do it or say it!

After coming home from this meeting, it made me wish I had made my children come with me. Four of them will be voting next year with the fifth one not too long after that. The only way to make these people accountable is by showing up and by voting. Thanks to Lee for putting their feet to the fire.

Anonymous said...

You surely don't want to be at the shelter on the closed day of Wednesday. That is day they put all the excess kitties and dogs to sleep, and then incinerate their bodies. Sad, Sad, Sad. I thank God for the fosters for the lucky ones! Maybe if there was a new facility so many would not be put down.

Lee Becker said...

This is a very slightly edited version of an anonymous comment submitted for publication.

This is a travesty! Melvin Davis ... and the whole BOC are a bunch of cronies of the worst sort . It makes my blood boil. How in the hell is it ok to appoint not ONE person who applied from the shelter to the advisory board? How can we as citizens allow such blatant abuse of power? Maybe someone needs to follow the money and see how Davis is connected to these advisory board members. Are they related to each other, does Davis get kick backs or other perks from any of them or the organizations they belong to? Wanna male a bet they all hang together at bbqs and such and throw back some brewskys and make fun of the passionate people who want change in the county? I have proof those commissioners do just that but voters don't seem to care. We are the voice for these disenfranchised animals. We have a MORAL obligation to protect them. We are their guardians. The point at which humans are inflicting harm on an innocent animal is the point at which their civil rights become secondary to the rights of the animal. Wake up committee members! By not supporting animal control you are complicit in the abuse of hundreds of animals in Oconee county. This is moral turpitude of the highest order. Fosgate is the only one exempt from the insanity that is the advisory board! Thank you Ms Fosgate!

Lee Becker said...

This is an edited version of a comment left by anonymous on 7/28/2015

Claire Hamilton was a big mistake.

fulldawg said...

Did I miss something here? IMHO I am reading that Fosgate is a proponent of warrantless search which is prohibited by the 4th Amendment of our Constitution. Does she just walk onto anyone's property without permission for any reason? Why cannot the director of Animal Control simply go to a judge with reasonable cause to obtain such? It appears that this is lost on Fosgate's friends who wrote into this forum.