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Pinellas County Animal Services director resigns after misusing animal health laser

A rash of Pinellas County Animal Services employees have been disciplined in recent years for, among other violations, misusing government property.

But this year, one employee took home new equipment and used it for himself without being disciplined: director Dewayne Taylor.

After Pinellas spent $25,400 in February on a laser to help animals recuperate from surgery, Taylor used it to treat his knees after his own surgeries, according to documents obtained under an open records request. He also acknowledged using the machine to experiment on two former directors and pets of staffers, too.

The violation wasn't disclosed when County Administrator Bob LaSala announced Taylor's resignation last week. But it was key in his stepping down from the $110,000-a-year job, LaSala and county officials acknowledged Wednesday. His resignation takes effect Oct. 1.

"I think it was quite clear it was an improper of use of county equipment," Commissioner Ken Welch said. "And you know, using that piece of equipment on your own body, that's just not acceptable."

Taylor received no disciplinary action because he did not cost the county money, LaSala said.

But in a letter responding to the allegation, Taylor admitted he should resign if county officials had lost trust in him. He turned in his resignation Aug. 2 as county officials investigated the charge.

LaSala informed at least some commissioners about the laser, but he said, "I don't discuss personnel matters," as the reason for not disclosing the violation publicly.

Pinellas employees are not allowed to use county property for personal use, according to county policy. An animal control officer was suspended last year after washing his own truck at a county carwash and taking county bleach, for example.

That case was part of a St. Petersburg Times story this year, which detailed a high rate of disciplinary action and strife at Animal Services. Some employees blame favoritism by managers.

"Should he be disciplined as other employees are disciplined? Absolutely," County Commissioner John Morroni said. "But the fact is, he's leaving as of October, and I'm sure this is part of it."

However, LaSala said the county wouldn't necessarily discipline employees the same way for similar violations. "You might have two situations that look like they're similar … and we come up with different decisions," he said.

The county began reviewing the agency in June after the Times report appeared. Taylor's violation was discovered after human resources director Peggy Rowe and Assistant County Administrator Maureen Freaney — who led the review — received an anonymous complaint July 11.

"Had there been any other employee that committed this gross violation of personnel rules, they would have been fired before they knew what hit them," said the letter, signed as Animal Service Employee.

The tipster went on to write, "I truly hope that he is held accountable for his actions and to the same standard that we are."

Taylor defended his intentions for using the machine, saying Wednesday that running it is part of his job.

In response to the complaint, Taylor wrote July 16 that he took the laser home to learn how to operate it while he was recovering from surgery, saying it has a "steep learning curve."

"It never crossed my mind that this would be considered misuse of county property," he wrote.

Taylor also made no secret of offering to use it on employees and their pets, saying most therapy was done with his office door open. He detailed using the laser on former department directors Welch Agnew and Kenny Mitchell.

The results were encouraging: less demand for medicine and a quicker recovery for both humans and animals.

"Did I personally benefit from the therapy? Absolutely," Taylor wrote.

David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8779. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/decamptimes.

Pinellas County Animal Services director resigns after misusing animal health laser 08/17/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 17, 2011 10:58pm]
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