Tuesday, January 16, 2018
News Roundup

More tumult in dog's death

BROOKSVILLE — Several hours after the contentious discussion at Tuesday's County Commission meeting about the crisis at Hernando County Animal Services, a surprised Teamsters union business agent shot off some tough questions of his own.

Who were these "five whack-job PETA-type volunteers'' ordering around county workers, calling for their firing and interrupting their work? What about last week's threats against workers, including a bomb threat?

"My question is who the hell is running this place,'' Teamsters business agent John Sholtes asked Cheryl Marsden, the county's administrative services director, in an email. "Who is in charge and how in the world are they allowing this all to happen?''

If answers are not forthcoming, "my next phone call is to the Department of Labor to file a complaint with the EEOC (the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) for a hostile work environment that the employer is doing NOTHING to correct,'' Sholtes wrote.

Sholtes and Marsden agreed to meet Friday to discuss the issue, the latest development in nearly two weeks of tumult since an 8-month-old pit bull mix named Zeus was surrendered to Animal Services, only to be euthanized 12 minutes later, according to shelter documents.

In the meantime, Richard Silvani, executive director of the PetLuv Nonprofit Spay and Neuter Clinic, whose agreement with Animal Services is at the center of the crisis, said Wednesday he also is concerned about the work environment at Animal Services.

But Silvani's goal is to get the county to move several of the more controversial Animal Services workers out of the shelter and into other county jobs while county officials and the audit services arm of the clerk of the circuit court complete an investigation at the shelter.

The investigation was called for by county staffers and approved Tuesday by commissioners to get to the bottom of what happened with Zeus on April 13.

A firestorm of controversy erupted when volunteers who witnessed the incident while working at the shelter went public.

Silvani has offered to provide workers and volunteers to fill in for the county employees if they are transferred.

Allowing the workers who were involved in the incident to continue to work at the shelter "can create a toxic atmosphere,'' Silvani said in an email to Marsden on Wednesday.

Marsden has maintained that the county must be careful in what it does with employees before the investigation is completed, given "we have a union environment here,'' she wrote to Silvani in an email earlier this week.

When Silvani learned that the Teamsters agent was upset with the volunteers, he said the agent is entitled to his opinion. But he said the root of the problem is that Animal Services has a memorandum of agreement with PetLuv under which the nonprofit provides vaccines and other medical services in order to make pets more adoptable. The employees in question, he said, have bucked following some provisions of that agreement from the beginning.

"We're all part of this agreement, and we're working toward the same goal,'' Silvani said.

That goal, he said, is to make more use of volunteers, community rescue groups and other resources to better prepare, advertise and market pets in order to reduce the number of euthanizations at Animal Services.

One reason for the Zeus incident and other problems at the shelter relates directly to that rebellion, Silvani said.

"Some of the Animal Services workers have never bought into that,'' he said. "They've been doing it their way for so long.''

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.

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