LARGO — A month after the new head of the Pinellas County Animal Services resigned under fire, county officials say the incident barely caused a blip and they plan to provide better services.
The most visible evidence, they say, was the appointment of Maureen Freaney, an assistant county administrator, to run the department until a new director can be found.
County Administrator Bob LaSala "wanted to send a strong message that Animal Services in Pinellas County matters," Freaney said. "My marching orders are clear: Bob wants this to be a priority."
The resignation of Phillip Morgan last month came less than three months after he was appointed to be the agency's director. A human rights investigation dealt with an accusation of his making vulgar comments to employees. Morgan denied some of the allegations and said others were taken out of context.
Morgan's resignation was the latest in a line of troubles for the agency. A May 2011 investigation by the Tampa Bay Times found that more than a quarter of the department's 47 employees had been disciplined during the preceding five years. The problems ranged from minor to deadly negligence and included an incident in which one animal control officer put four kittens into a trap on a hot day to try to lure their mother. One kitten died and two others had to be euthanized after they suffered heat exhaustion.
Morgan declined to discuss issues facing the agency, but he left a three-page handwritten memo with notes concerning problems facing the department. Among them: managing the drugs used for the animals, addressing safety issues in a storage room known as "KMart," and creating a mission and vision for Animal Services.
Dr. Caroline Thomas, director of veterinary services for the department, said she and Morgan had disagreed about the method used to keep track of drug usage. But, Thomas said, those concerns were unfounded because she complies with federal laws governing recordkeeping of controlled substances.
Freaney said there are no safety issues in the storage room and that the county does have a vision for Animal Services. It's her job, she said, to make sure the department is well on track to accomplishing those goals by the time the new director takes over.
LaSala referred to that vision in the memo he wrote announcing Freaney's appointment as interim director.
"I want every employee, volunteer and constituent group to know that we will continue our efforts to improve our partnership with the community and the sense of teamwork and collaboration among employees and volunteers," LaSala wrote.
Freaney said she plans to strengthen Animal Services' relationship with SPCA Tampa Bay and the Humane Society of Pinellas, to work on making spaying and neutering less expensive, and to try to adjust license fees.
Anne Lindberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8450.