CLEARWATER — Pinellas commissioners want County Administrator Bob LaSala to review problems in the county's Animal Services Department after a report about the agency appeared in the St. Petersburg Times Tuesday.
In interviews Tuesday, a majority of the commissioners expressed concern over discipline records and complaints of favoritism in the department.
"You can't fault our employees for not following policy when you didn't follow policy," said Commissioner Norm Roche, a former county employee.
Assistant County Administrator Maureen "Moe" Freaney will examine the reported problems, LaSala said. He also said he will ask the personnel office to review discipline actions by supervisors.
"Am I disappointed? Yes. I want a level of service that everybody wants, and we will continue to strive to do that," LaSala said.
A quarter of the 47 animal service employees have been disciplined in the past five years. Its reprimands and suspensions numbered almost as many as some much larger departments, the Times found.
Workers committed paperwork errors but also more serious violations, such as euthanizing the wrong cat and watching hours of streaming movies on county computers while at work.
Disciplined workers complained of favoritism, tension and poor morale in a department that has lost a third of its staff since 2007 to budget cuts.
The troubles prompted animal advocate Dan Hester, who helped create the county's anti-tethering law for dogs, to call on Pinellas officials to upgrade Animal Services.
Hester, a bank executive and former Seminole City Council member, said budget cuts have left the agency too thin. Some of the employees with discipline records would have been fired in the private sector, Hester said.
"I'm going to hold the county commissioners accountable. That's where the buck stops," said Hester.
Cutbacks have left Dewayne Taylor overworked as the director and the sole veterinarian at the department, Hester said.
County officials already intend to spare Animal Services from budget cuts proposed for 2011-12. But commissioners said the hard times and pressure facing the department are felt across the county. LaSala acknowledged Taylor was stretched thin.
"I still have a lot of confidence in him. If improvements need to be made, I have no doubt he and Moe will accomplish them," LaSala said.
David DeCamp can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8779. Follow him on Twitter with @DeCampTimes.