Humphrey resigns oversight position over animal shelter

Published 11:20 pm Monday, June 19, 2017

The Elizabethton/Carter County Animal Shelter once again dominated the monthly meeting of the Carter County Commission as Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey announced he was resigning from his managerial duties of the shelter and the Commission created a transition team to move the shelter toward becoming a non-profit agency.
When commissioners considered the evening’s agenda, Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey asked to add a “Mayoral Announcement” to the agenda before the public comments.
Humphrey began by discussing the continued controversy regarding operations and funding for the shelter.
“This is not a time for politics, folks,” Humphrey said. “We need to look at the bottom line.”
“Now the Mayor is being used as a battering ram, a political battering ram,” Humphrey added, referring to himself and criticisms he has undergone.
Humphrey told the Commission when he reviewed shelter operations in June 2016 he found numerous problems, including issues with the handling of shelter finances. Following his review, Humphrey said it became apparent the shelter was severely underfunded, so he approached the Commission to get the money needed to continue operations.
While he feels there has been a lot of success at the shelter, Humphrey said he is continually criticized – by both the Commission and City Council – for seeking the additional funds.
“The Mayor has, for the first time in his career, fallen short of your expectations,” Humphrey said of himself. “Effective immediately, the County Mayor is withdrawing himself from any managerial duties for the animal shelter.”
Humphrey said it was “obvious” to him that some members of the Commission have extensive experience to operate the shelter and therefore he was handing it over the commissioners.
“It wouldn’t be fair for me and my staff to impede you,” Humphrey said.
Following the announcement by Humphrey, several members of the audience began to applaud as he returned to his seat.
The Mayor’s announcement led to more debate on the animal shelter.
Commissioner John Lewis made a motion for the country to turn the operation of the shelter over to the City of Elizabethton and allocate $100,000 to the City to pay the county’s portion of operating fees. Commissioner Ronnie Trivett seconded the motion.
While some touted the move as the right thing for the county to do, others called for their colleagues to consider the matter carefully and not care their votes in haste.
“I feel it’s a little premature to take on this motion tonight,” Commissioner Ross Garland said. “We need to explore other options. I just don’t know if tonight’s the night.”
Others said they were tired of the constant arguing over the shelter.
“Frankly, I’m tired of it,” Commissioner Robert Carroll said. “We ought to give it to the City. They know everything there is to know, and so do some of these commissioners.”
Some commissioners called for a team to be established to help the transition and oversee the shelter until the transfer takes place.
Commissioner Kelly Collins asked, “What’s the plan if the City doesn’t take it?”
When asked for his opinion on the issue, County Attorney Josh Hardin said he felt the county has a legally binding contract with the City regarding funding.
“My position is when they chose not to fund it they breached that contract,” Hardin said. “If you vote to do this, you will breach it too.”
The motion to turn the shelter over to the City ultimately failed on a vote of 7-17.
Later in the meeting, the animal shelter was once again brought up for discussion, this time during the committee reports portion of the meeting.
After giving his report as chairman of the Financial Management Committee, Commissioner Ray Lyons made a motion to create a “transition team” for the purpose of transitioning the shelter over from a government entity to a nonprofit agency which could solicit funds and grants. As part of his motion, Lyons named Commissioner Buford Peters as the “liaison” to work with the transition team and to take over the duties of managing the shelter’s day-to-day operations which Humphrey resigned earlier in the meeting. The transition team would be made up of Peters, Commissioner Randall Jenkins, Animal Shelter Director Shannon Posada, a representative from the Animal Shelter Advisory Board, and two representatives from the City of Elizabethton.
Lyons said during a recess to the meeting he had spoken with Peters regarding accepting the position.
Commissioner Nancy Brown asked Hardin if the conversation in the hallway between Lyons and Peters broke the state’s open meetings law since county business was discussed outside of the open meeting. Hardin said he felt it was a breach of the Sunshine Law, but said he felt the Commission could correct the issue as long as they had “new and substantial discuss” regarding the animal shelter issue.
Lyons said the commissioners had been instructed earlier in the meeting by Humphrey to brainstorm ideas regarding how to handle the shelter and that’s why he spoke with Peters during the recess.
“That is not the only discussion that took place,” Lyons said, adding other commissioners also discussed the matter during the break. “We were asked to do this.”
Humphrey responded that he “in no way” directed the commissioners to discuss the matter outside of the open meeting.
The decision to create the transition team and allow Peters to supervise the day-to-day operations of the shelter passed on a vote of 19-2 with three commissioners abstaining from the vote.

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