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