When the six members of the Oconee County Animal Control Advisory Board began their meeting last night, they were facing an audience of nearly 30 people in a small, overly warm room at the Community Center in Veterans Park.
A few people drifted in and out as the nearly three-hour meeting progressed, but when the Advisory Board let the citizens speak at two hours and 20 minutes into the meeting, 25 people were still present.
While speakers mixed in compliments for the Advisory Board, all also offered some criticism or urged the Advisory Board to be more aggressive in supporting the work of the county’s Animal Control Department.
The Board received its most vocal criticism for its unwillingness to consider strengthening the county’s existing animal control ordinance to ban tethering of dogs and hoarding of animals.
Animal Control Director Catlyn Vickers and Crystal Berisko, adoption rescue coordinator, told the Board at several points during the meeting that they are frustrated with their inability to get the kinds of judgements they want in Oconee County Magistrate Court.
Magistrate Judge Eric Norris is too lenient and inconsistent in fining those the county brings before him for violations of the county animal control ordinance, they said.
Before the meeting Vickers had presented the Advisory Board records for the Sept. 11 session of the court, and those records show nine cases with fines ranging from $0 to $1,702 for a variety of offenses.
Norris is an appointee of the Oconee County Board of Commissioners, but the discussion about how to bring about the desired court outcomes was directed mostly at Norris.
Vickers and Berisko said they also need a tougher ordinance, and they specifically called for a ban on tethering of dogs and on hoarding of animals.
Animal Control Advisory Board Member Helen Fosgate agreed, but none of the other Board members joined her.
Board Chairman Susan Scheff Wells said that the existing ordinance is sufficient to deal with the problems presented by Vickers and Vickers, which were illustrated with a variety of pictures of sick and dead dogs and cats.
Tom Beacorn, a doctor of veterinary medicine and Advisory Board member, said the Board needs better data about the problems the Animal Control Department is confronting before making a decision. He also said it isn’t clear if the issue is a need for better enforcement or for a better ordinance.
Advisory Board member Claire Hamilton repeated her view, stated at the last meeting in July, that “there are times when tethering an animal is in the best interest of the animal.”
Meetings And Resolution
The Advisory Board struggled to agree on when to hold meetings and to even understand the rules that govern its behavior.
At the meeting in July, Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chairman Melvin Davis gave the Advisory Board members two resolutions passed by the Board of Commissioners governing the Animal Control Advisory Board.
One of those was passed on Jan. 3, 1989, and was signed by all five of the commissioners at the time.
It established for the first time in the county an Animal Control Board and said it should have five members.
The second resolution Davis gave the Advisory Board in July also was signed by five commissioners and was dated April 6, 2010.
Meetings And Bylaws
The second resolution amended the 1989 ordinance and created an Animal Control Advisory Board with six members.
Vickers and Wells could not agree on Wednesday night which of the resolutions governs the existing Board. The Board has six members and is called the Animal Control Advisory Board, consistent with the 2010 resolution.
In the end, the Advisory Board agreed to meet in February and July of 2016 and to call other meetings as needed.
The Bylaws of the Animal Control Advisory Board, dated April 5, 2011, stipulate that the Advisory Board is to meet four times a year, with specific meetings set for February and July.
According to those Bylaws, which were not discussed explicitly last night, the chairperson of the Advisory Board, the director of the Animal Control Department, or a majority of the Advisory Board members also can call a meeting.
The Advisory Board did seem to come close to agreement on one important issue before it.
Advisory Board Member Janet Calpin told her colleagues she had visited the Animal Shelter recently and found major problems. She concluded that the existing building, because of flooding, either “needs to be put on stilts” or a new building needs to be built.
Voters approved $750,000 in the 2015 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, which begins next month, for animal control.
The language of the SPLOST resolution passed by the Board of Commissioners on Aug. 5, 2014, does not specify anything more than that the money is for “animal control facilities.”
Calpin seemed to have swayed most of the Board members that a new facility is needed, though no formal vote was taken.
The Animal Control Board last night also expressed more support of the Animal Control Department’s foster program than had been the case at the July meeting.
At that, the most recent meeting before last night, Calpin had said the program should be spun off from the county and run by some other group.
Vickers and Berisko told the Advisory Board last night that the program is supported entirely by donations and that it has saved animal lives.
Berisko reviewed the data showing that adoptions are up and euthanasias are down since the program was put into place.
It was clear from the reaction of the citizens present and from their comments later that many were there to convince the Advisory Board of citizen support for the foster program.
Pamela Hendrix told the Advisory Board she was concerned about euthanasia at the animal shelter. She said the county needs to “tighten up on the definition of what is a truly unadoptable animal.”
Ed Pinson, a veterinarian in the county, praised the foster program, saying it “was the best I’ve ever seen.”
Pinson also was critical of tethering. “I don’t know that I’ve ever seen tethering done well,” he said.
Wendy Jackson, who is the special events coordinator for the Shelter, said “animal control needs to be made a priority to this Board, to the Board of Commissioners and to the community.”
“We have a community and county that loves our animals and loves our Animal Control,” she said. “We need to be working with them.”
The full video of the meeting is below.