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Two full-time employees eliminated, no animal control… Animal Shelter Board forced to make tough call moving forward

BY IVAN SANDERS
STAR STAFF
ivan.sanders@elizabethton.com
After three failed motions to extend funds to help the Elizabethton-Carter County Animal Shelter meet its budgetary needs for 2021-2022 by the Carter County Budget Committee on Monday night, the Animal Shelter Board had to come to grips with making some hard decisions in a meeting that felt more like a funeral planning session according to some in the gallery.

A decision was called for and regretfully made to dismiss two full-time employees and continue not providing any animal control to the city and county.

The result came as nearly $71,000 was eliminated from the animal shelter budget by the county commission.

In leading into the discussion concerning the budget, animal shelter board chairman Mike Barnett used the song ‘Going in Circles’ from Three Dog Night in 1972 as the theme to set the stage.

“When we are talking about the commission, I wanted to put the Land of Confusion but I didn’t know who all would be here,” Barnett shared with the board. “Will this ever end? I mean it’s becoming a difficult thing for sane people to wrap their head around how we can have all this surplus money and different things and we can do all the bonuses and all the luxury vehicles and we can do this, but the animal shelter has to give up $71,000.

“I think most people in this room are animal friendly. We are talking about two employees very possibly losing their job and we are sitting here as a board trying to figure out how to keep the shelter open.

“And then you heard the reports of cruelty cases and unforeseen deaths and things of that nature where there is a continual revolving door of animals that we have to take in sometimes in large quantities,” Barnett continued.

“We have got to have some answers. There is just so much we can whack. We have a special called meeting and in that meeting, we come to some agreement in A, B, and C options and put that forward and then we are told no, there is a budget limit that we had to meet and that was never told to us.

“So this board continues to be to a large extent left in the dark and I think all of us feel that way. I mean what do we do? How does this board function for the benefit of this community but in particular these animals?”

In a see-saw battle between the Carter County Commission and the animal shelter that has resembled a game of Clue leaving everyone guessing where the final decision would finally be found, the animal shelter board had to come to a final decision on how to handle the shortfall in the budget as they had to turn in their final budget by August 12th.

During the discussion, everything was on the table as Commission Sonja Culler stated upfront that she didn’t want to see anyone lose their job. However, as the discussion developed it became more clearer that the only recourse the board had was to recommend and act on the two full-time positions being eliminated and provide no animal control to the taxpayers of Carter County.

“I don’t know how many people in this room are Christian and it’s probably none of my business, but if I realize and if I read scripture, the Lord gave Adam responsibility for animals – to name them, to look after them, and to do the right thing,” Barnett stated before any decision was reached.

“I am a firm believer that we have the ability to rationalize, reason, problem-solve, and all these things that animals don’t have the ability to do and that is why we have animal control, that is why we have an animal shelter that is an anti-euthanasia shelter whenever possible but now our hand has been dealt with where we may have to go to euthanasing animals because we don’t have a way to house them.

“And then it goes around in a full circle that we can’t get any traction on animal laws or any push for spay and neutering and teeth in animal control and not for hunters – I’m not after hunters, I am not going after hunters – I am not going after legal breeders who do things right,” Barnett continued.

“But we have people that bring in the same litters over and over again and we are afraid of stepping on someone’s toes but I can look up Gary Bailey’s shorts because it showed on Facebook posts – I mean don’t you have any dress codes. I mean I know that I am in shorts but I am not going to set my legs up here. You don’t need to look at them.

“That was an embarrassment to your leadership and that is just my opinion. I would respect you enough to come in at least decent attire and at least not put my feet up on the desk as though I could less of what anyone else has to say – I have got my mind made up and I think that’s poor.

“I am sorry that our shelter staff had to look at that because they are really struggling with morale and worried about having a job tomorrow. If you didn’t know whether you would have a job tomorrow, you would be worried too.”

Dr. Robert Acuff, a Carter County Commissioner and a member of the animal shelter board, was visibly upset with several things going on in the commission in regards to the truth being obscured and the way a particular commissioner acted during the County Budget Committee meeting.

“The county attorney on two occasions has said that the commission can actually line item a budget,” said Dr. Acuff. “I called the Comptroller’s office today and no they can’t. I have the statute here, I spent an hour on the phone with these folks. The only way they can do that is if you give them permission to do that and I understand you are not going to give them that permission.

“So Mr. Hardin is wrong on this one.

“And as Sonja and I have discussed several times, at CTAS the cardinal rule is that you can reduce a department’s budget, but you cannot go line item by line item and decide to take those monies out,” Dr. Acuff continued.

“That does not give the Commission that authority by state law and we just have to keep that in mind. There are a number of facts that are missing from this Commission and another fact that angered me last night was that Commissioner Frazier said that the animal shelter budget increases every year, yet Finance Director Burke on three different occasions in this courtroom at the full commission said that this was the lowest budget in the last three budget cycles.”

Dr. Acuff expanded further on what he considered to be untruths being told.

“There are a number of what I would classify as untruths or spin that occur inside this commission. I think that we need to come up with a list of those and I would be happy to read them when Chairman Hill calls on me for the animal shelter report to go through that list yet again.

“I think that the truth needs to be out there and there should be no spin on these.

“We have Commissioners that apparently don’t use dictionaries and apparently pull definitions out of the air. We had one of them do it last night. He thought joint meant 50-50. A joint agreement does not mean a 50-50 split. Anywhere in anybody’s dictionary – you look in Blackwell’s Law Dictionary, you look in Webster’s Dictionary – it doesn’t mean a 50-50 split.

“The public needs to know so commissioners are called on the untruths that they perpetrate on this floor.”

Finally, Dr. Acuff addressed the way that Commissioner Aaron Frazier addressed a county employee from the animal shelter in regard to a potential labor issue.

“The other thing that I will not tolerate and I talked to Chairman Jaynes on this – a sitting commissioner should never berate in the public a county employee and that happened last night to the point of the commissioner raising his voice so loud and becoming so angry – totally, totally inappropriate,” Dr. Acuff stated.

“That individual if he thought there was a labor issue, he should have come to you (Posada) in private and said I have this concern, can we talk about it.”

City Councilman Wes Frazier, who is not related to Commissioner Frazier said, “He should never have jumped her the way he did. That was disgusting and I meant to keep my mouth shut but the bottom line is there is no place for that in politics and no place for that anywhere.

“If I jumped my wife the way he did last night, they would be bringing a body bag in because she would shoot me. She is not going to tolerate it, and I know that so I do not speak to my wife like that. The way this guy spoke to the employee last night was uncalled for.”

Posada provided an update on numbers for the month of July during the meeting as well.

“For the month of July, we had 63 cat intakes plus four that were brought in that were returned to owners,” Posada shared with the board. “Four kittens were returned from foster. Our dog intake was 48 plus seven returned from foster and 19 brought in that were returned to the owner.

“Cats adopted for the month of July were 47 and dogs were 35.

“For the current numbers, we have 125 cats with eight in foster and four that just came in. We have 54 dogs. We have seven on a cruelty hold and the court case is coming up in September. This is the third court case.

“We took in 12 from an unforeseen issue that had been ongoing,” continued Posada. “The people had already been charged and were not even supposed to have animals and they had a total of about 20 there. The lady is 81 and there were some squatters that came in on her property and she is going in the hospital this week. She is in a very bad situation and we had seven more but nowhere to put them.”

Chairman Barnett also touched on COVID protocols as cases continue to climb in the region.

“We have COVID procedures that staff is familiar with,” Barnett commented. “How do we handle that with the staff we have and maybe even less staff. I would assume the board is fine to let Shannon use her best discretion on any potential closing that we need to do if there is an outbreak as well as taking care of posting to social media and that kind of stuff.

“We have been blessed to have a clean shelter and pretty much an outbreak-free shelter compared to what some of our neighbors have gone through in the past not necessarily in the last little bit so we have to be careful that we don’t take a step backward and try to do something good and cause problems.”

Finally, City Councilman Mike Simerly shared with the board an idea he had where more volunteers could become involved with the animal shelter.

“I think that we could do an Alive after Five where we have some kind of spin to it,” Simerly stated. “A lot of us have to work to 5 pm but could come after work and to give services to help the shelter. If we put something like that in the paper and just play it up and say hey we are waving the flag for help. We could do adoptions, walking the dogs, clean, or whatever to help out.

“We could have some fun – maybe just an evening at the shelter. A lot of the people in our community love animals and would love to help.”