Originally created 12/02/99

Board to director: 'No confidence'



The Richmond County Animal Control Advisory Board issued a vote of no confidence in facility Director Jim Larmer and called for his dismissal in 30 days if he doesn't shape up.

The board confronted Mr. Larmer on Wednesday with a long list of complaints about his managerial shortcomings, the rudeness of animal control employees and the inhumane treatment of animals at the facility.

"We feel that the Augusta-Richmond County Animal Control facility is one of the most poorly managed and inefficient run in the state of Georgia," the board said in a statement signed by eight of the nine members and read to Mr. Larmer by member Brad Owens.

"We have come to this conclusion after 12 months of observation and trying to work to improve the conditions at the facility."

The board also raised questions with Mr. Larmer and, later, City Administrator Randy Oliver about the number of animals being killed at the facility -- 1,000 in July -- and the lack of reliable records on animal-control activities.

"Things have got to change," Mr. Owens told Mr. Larmer. "It starts at the top. ... Somebody is going to have to tell me why we're euthanizing so many animals. Who made the calls on that and why?

"There's something wrong there. There something amiss. One out of six gets adopted. It's been suggested that these animals are being euthanized because somebody doesn't want to take care of them."

Last year, 10,620 animals were put to death at the facility, and this year the number is estimated to be 10,500.

Board member Barbara Cooksey said her main concern is that the prison inmates who work at the facility hose down the unheated cages without removing the animals during freezing weather, causing them to get kennel cough and, in turn, be killed.

"Is that a criteria for euthanizing?" Mr. Owens asked. He was told it was, even though kennel cough can be treated.

Mr. Owens also said board members receive an "overwhelming amount of complaints" about employee rudeness.

"When people call out here, we need to remember we are public servants," Mr. Owens said, referring to a complaint about Mr. Larmer he had received from Amy Sullivent, who's cat was taken to the facility the day before Thanksgiving and disappeared, although an employee promised her she could pick it up Nov. 29.

"I don't feel I was short and curt to her in any way," Mr. Larmer said.

Mr. Owens and other board members also complained that Mr. Larmer has been unresponsive to their requests for facts and figures about the facility.

"When we ask for information, there's a reason behind it," Mr. Owens said. "We want things to be better. They are going to be better. They have to be better. ... Pretty much the choice is whether we work it out or whether we don't work it out."

"We can work it out," Mr. Larmer said. "I'll admit I dropped the ball in not finding out the numbers of animals that we get from other counties."

After the meeting, Mr. Larmer said he was surprised by the board's action. Asked if he thought it was justified, he said, "Part of it may be."

He said he would first read the complaints and then correct the deficiencies.

Board member Thomas Clark said the meeting was fruitful and would lead to improvement.

Member Sally Manning said the board has worked hundreds of volunteer hours and searched its soul before Wednesday's action.

"The mayor talks about we're the second-largest city in the state, and I think we need more than a third-world shelter," Ms. Manning said. "And we need leadership. We need the motivation and initiative to get it done."

Animal-control employee Mark Bailey said positive things will come from the meeting.

"He had to have someone light a fire under him," Mr. Bailey said. "And if someone lights a fire under him, maybe we will get some things done. I think a lot of things will happen in the future. I think management will see a change in employees, and employees will see a change in the management."

Board members met with Mr. Oliver with the two-page list of complaints and their request that Mr. Larmer either be made to perform his job and that his actions be closely monitored or that he be removed within 30 days.

They extended the 30-day deadline when Mr. Oliver suggested a half-day meeting "to facilitate a game plan."

"The first thing we need to do is get the system to make sure we have valid record keeping," Mr. Oliver said.

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or sylviaco@augustachronicle.com.