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Pinellas Animal Services director resigns after allegations of misconduct

The head of Pinellas County Animal Services has resigned after being accused of making vulgar comments to employees.

The resignation of Phillip Morgan came less than three months after he took over the leadership of a troubled agency that has been plagued by dysfunction and anxiety. Assistant County Administrator Maureen Freaney will run Animal Services until a replacement is found. Freaney could not be reached Monday for comment.

A human rights investigation found that Morgan had violated county employment rules against offensive conduct and the use of profane and abusive language. Morgan, 51, denied the charges and told investigators he's the victim of pushback from employees who felt threatened by changes that were needed.

Among other things, Morgan specifically was accused of the following:

• Talking with co-workers about donkey shows in Tijuana, Mexico, and the performances of the women in the shows.

• Talking about a female volunteer's breasts while cupping his hands in front of his chest. He was also accused of saying that he intentionally kept her in his office "for a length of time to look at her body and that he imagined the things he would like to do to her."

The report also referred to other comments Morgan was alleged to have made, including telling one employee that "no one … likes you." He was also alleged to have said during a discussion about euthanasia, "So, you're just going to kill an animal," a comment that one employee said might be considered offensive.

Morgan resigned Wednesday in a three-paragraph handwritten note to Freaney after being shown the report.

"Due to personal issues, it is with much regret and a heavy heart I must resign my position … effective immediately," Morgan wrote. "I truly enjoyed my time with your organization and will miss working with you and the citizens of Pinellas County."

Morgan said Monday that he did not resign because of the report.

"Things are not always as they appear. You know as well as I do, you can't believe everything you read," Morgan said. "I absolutely, unequivocally deny most of the allegations. Some of the allegations were taken out of context."

Morgan said he decided to leave because he felt that his ability to lead had been compromised and because of the likelihood he would be accused of retaliation for actions he might have to take in the future. He had been on the $107,000-a-year job only since Sept. 24.

Morgan declined to discuss issues facing Pinellas Animal Services, which has been plagued by dysfunction for at least the past few years.

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.

In August 2011, the agency's director resigned and was temporarily replaced by Will Davis, who had most recently run the county's risk management office.

Morgan, a consultant for managing and promoting a positive public image of municipal animal shelters, animal control departments and nonprofits, was hired to take over. Morgan had also headed up the Kootenai Humane Society in Hayden, Idaho, and the Escondido Humane Society in Escondido, Calif.

Anne Lindberg can be reached at alindberg@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8450.

Pinellas Animal Services director resigns after allegations of misconduct 12/17/12 [Last modified: Monday, December 17, 2012 11:47pm]
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