Animal control board's actions raise concerns

The actions of some members of the Columbia County Animal Care and Control Advisory Board have so disturbed the county commission that one commissioner this week suggested the group be disbanded.

 

"My gut reaction is to get rid of the advisory board and just take volunteers," said Commissioner Scott Dean, whose mother, Erica, is the board's chairwoman.

Mr. Dean said his mother also favors eliminating the advisory board.

In recent weeks, members of the advisory board have approached potential patrons of Animal Control in its parking lot and told them not to leave their animals there.

Animal Control Manager Linda Fulmer said one woman entered her office off Columbia Road crying. She told commissioners that the woman recently had a baby and wanted to give Animal Control her cat. The woman said that an advisory board member told her it would be better if she "put a bullet into the cat's head."

In another incident, Mrs. Fulmer said a board member who was touring the kennels asked a kennel technician, "When is this one going to be killed?"

Advisory board member Bonnie Whittle, wife of Columbia County Sheriff Clay Whittle, said she has talked with patrons in the parking lot of Animal Control but has never dissuaded anyone from seeking its services.

"I address people on a daily basis, but nobody has ever discouraged anyone from leaving an animal at the shelter," said Mrs. Whittle, who operates an animal-rescue operation. "If anything, we'll offer help to someone. Never has it ever been a discouraging move."

Board members have also been accused of launching personal attacks and criticisms against Animal Control staff, which Mr. Dean said is outside their purview.

Mrs. Whittle was surprised by that accusation.

"I have no clue what they're talking about," she said.

County officials might be reacting to a more determined advisory board, Mrs. Whittle said.

"In the past, things were kind of stale and you had to be a 'yes' person," she said. "But if you don't agree with something, and it doesn't sit right with certain people, then it becomes an issue."

Commissioners said that only some advisory board members are to blame for the discord, but they would not name them.

Board members include Ms. Dean, Mrs. Whittle, Donna Evans, Barbara Key, Karen Gross, Jeanne Harrison and Mary Ellen Franklin.

Though she called it a "useless committee" with no real authority, Mrs. Harrison, an Augusta lawyer and Grovetown resident, said the advisory board is needed.

"It's a watchdog for what's going on at the shelter and it makes the county deal with it," she said.

Phone messages left Thursday for Ms. Evans, Ms. Gross and Ms. Franklin were not immediately returned.

Ms. Key said she would not discuss the issue without first speaking with Ms. Dean.

The board is a citizen advisory committee chosen by county commissioners. It is authorized to make recommendations on fees and the impounding and disposal of animals and to conduct hearings pertaining to dangerous dogs, according to county Emergency and Operations Director Pam Tucker, who oversees Animal Control.

Mrs. Tucker told commissioners that many members of the advisory board work well with staff but that "others are only there to nitpick." She said she also favors disbanding the group.

In a committee meeting Tuesday commissioners stopped short of disbanding the board but authorized Mrs. Tucker and Deputy Administrator Scott Johnson to pen a letter to each member of the advisory board clearly stating their duties and reminding them that continued interference with operations at Animal Control will have consequences, which might include a member's removal from the board.

"I'd like to believe this is one more chance to come up with an understanding," Commissioner Trey Allen said of the letter.

The commission will review the letter during a meeting Tuesday.

Reach Donnie Fetter at (706) 868-1222, ext. 115, or donnie.fetter@augustachronicle.com.