TAMPA — For the second time in two years, Hillsborough County has hired a new director to run its animal shelter.
Scott Trebatoski, the city of Jacksonville's shelter director, was picked as the next Hillsborough County Animal Services director, county officials announced Wednesday.
Trebatoski was a finalist in 2012 when an interview panel that included local animal welfare advocates selected Ian Hallett — then deputy chief of the shelter in Austin, Texas — for the job here. In December, after months of complaints from some of those same advocates, County Administrator Mike Merrill transferred Hallett to a different department and started looking for a new director.
On Wednesday, Merrill said Trebatoski inherited an agency with similar problems when he took over Jacksonville's Animal Care and Protective Services division in 2008, and revamped it into one of Florida's best.
"Scott brings the proven ability to build a team," Merrill said. "Having someone of that caliber here is really great for the community."
Trebatoski, 50, starts March 10 and will make $120,000 per year. He is bringing John Page, his operations manager in Jacksonville, with him. Page will make $98,000 per year, Merrill said.
In addition to Wednesday's hires, the county also will add six positions to Animal Services, Merrill said, including a veterinarian. The six new positions — which don't include Trebatoski and Page — will cost about $212,000 per year.
The staff restructuring is the result of months of consultation from former Temple Terrace City Manager Kim Leinbach. Merrill brought Leinbach on in November to analyze Animal Services, long the subject of complaints and criticism from local animal advocates.
In a phone interview Wednesday, Trebatoski said it took him five years to improve Jacksonville's live-release rate — the percentage of animals the shelter takes in that leave alive — from 17 percent to 87 percent. Hillsborough's live-release rate in 2013 was 49 percent, according to the county, up from 39 percent in 2012.
"It's going to be a long-term process," Trebatoski said. "It's a big job for one person."
Before Jacksonville, Trebatoski led Lee County Animal Services for six years before his career there ended in controversy after one of his superiors questioned his management ability, according to the Fort Myers News-Press.
Internal investigations into allegations of negative morale and potential misuse of euthanasia drugs by an employee contributed to his dismissal, the newspaper said, but a county commissioner said Trebatoski had been mistreated.
"There was nothing about his career in Lee County that concerned us," Merrill said. "To me, what speaks volumes is what he's done in Jacksonville."
Humane Society Tampa Bay executive director Sherry Silk, who was part of the hiring panel in 2012, said she was "ecstatic" to hear the county hired Trebatoski.
"I would be shocked if he can't do great things here," Silk said. "If the cats could talk, they would be very happy."
Two years ago, Silk was similarly optimistic about Hallett, who now works in the county's Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department.
After taking the Animal Services job, though, Hallett faced resistance from some employees and volunteers who were unhappy with the management change.
Two veterinarians quit, complaining of poor communication and direction. There were outbreaks of disease attributed to poor management of animals held longer in an effort to increase adoption rates. Several dogs up for adoption were mistakenly euthanized.
The outcry over troubles drowned out improvements made during Hallett's tenure in adoptions and reduced kill rates.
"He just wasn't able to get the traction that he needed," Silk said of Hallett. "I don't think Scott will have that problem."
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Will Hobson can be reached at (813) 226-3400 or firstname.lastname@example.org.