One of the finalists to head the county's Animal Services Department is already raising concerns among animal welfare activists who wonder about her lack of experience.
The other finalist isn't generating much enthusiasm either, despite her experience heading an animal shelter in Palm Springs, Calif.
"I find the applicants weak at best," Seminole resident Dan Hester wrote last week in an email to Pinellas County officials. "In all honesty, I was not too impressed with the qualifications of the applicants."
Hester, a former Seminole council member, has been active in animal welfare issues in recent years.
Hester suggested that Assistant County Administrator Maureen Freaney and Pinellas County Administrator Bob LaSala continue searching for a better applicant. He sent his email about the five semifinalists chosen from the 55 applicants. That short list has since been whittled to two, who will interview again this Thursday and Friday.
The finalists are Christina Gulick, 46, director of the community control department at the Broward County Sheriff's Office, and Leslie Tisdale, 54, an animal control director with the Palm Springs Police Department. Gulick has no animal services experience. Tisdale served as animal shelter director for the Palm Springs department.
Hester said Friday that he was especially concerned about Gulick's lack of experience.
"To me (experience in animal welfare issues), that's got to be the No. 1 objective," Hester said. "The animal welfare community as a whole would not be accepting of an applicant without a background in animal welfare. It's critical."
Freaney, interim director of Animal Services, said she understands Hester's concerns but is willing to trade experience for strong leadership from someone who cares about animals.
"Would I like both (experience and leadership)? Absolutely," Freaney said. But "the strong leader is the most important thing."
She agreed with Hester that the next head of Animal Services will face multiple controversial issues. Among those are disputes in the animal welfare community itself on the best way to control pet overpopulation.
Some favor mandatory spay-neuter programs. Others want to leave spay-neuter voluntary but offer vouchers or other low-cost ways to encourage pet owners to have their animals neutered. Some advocate a trap-neuter-release program for feral cats. Others disagree that such a program would cut back on cat overpopulation.
Also in the offing is more collaboration between Animal Services and other animal welfare groups in the county. The SPCA Tampa Bay, for example, has proposed a four-part initiative to reduce pet homelessness. That includes an affordable veterinary clinic, a high-volume spay-neuter clinic, a task force that would focus on better ways to reunite lost pets with their owners, and summits to determine how to handle wildlife, farm animals and exotic animals that enter the system.
The Animal Services job came open late last year when Phillip Morgan resigned after three months. A human resources investigation found that he had made vulgar remarks to employees. Morgan denied the charges, saying he was a victim of a pushback from employees who did not want to make changes.
Anne Lindberg can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8450.