Hands tied over humane society

By Kevin Wheatley Published:

Though officials say they’re concerned about the turmoil surrounding the Franklin County Humane Society, the city and county have few choices to deal with it.

Commissioner Bill May explained their situation, saying the commission should use caution when treading the troubled waters of the humane society because the city has no real authority over it and other outside agencies.

The City Commission discussed the humane society Monday, and those who attended a closed-door meeting about the shelter Friday say the options include:
>Keeping or renegotiating the city’s contract with the humane society for animal control.
>Negotiating a contract with another shelter, such as the Woodford Humane Society.
>Having an outside group clean up the current shelter.
>Handling all animal control through Fiscal Court since the county’s obligated to provide animal services.

Commissioners at the Monday meeting – at the Franklin County Cooperative Extension Office on Lakeview Court – agreed to monitor the situation at the shelter for 90 days and continue talks with the county before making a decision.

Still, the city and county can’t tell the humane society’s board how to run the shelter, specifically its euthanasia policy, since it’s an independent organization, Mayor Gippy Graham said, noting the shelter hasn’t broken its contract with the city and county.

“It does not, in my judgment, fall upon the City Commission nor the Fiscal Court to tell the humane society board how long (to) keep animals or what (they) do with animals,” Graham said.

“… It’s my personal opinion that if they get their situation straightened out, then what we’re doing now would be the best, in my opinion, resolution to this issue.”

The humane society’s board has fallen into disarray, with only four board members remaining from the initial push for reform after a family dog was misidentified as a coyote and released behind the former Home Depot building off Lawrenceburg Road in July last year.

The shelter’s board has seven vacancies, including two ex-officio city and county members. The board plans to hold a special election in September and fill some seats internally, board member Gary Buchholz told the commission Monday.

Some on the commission suggested strengthening the city’s oversight of the humane society.

Commissioners Sellus Wilder and Michael Turner said they’d like to see the city appoint a voting member of the shelter’s board instead of an ex-officio officer with no real power.

“… That safeguard that was put in place for the city and county to be able to exercise that influence or exercise that oversight inherently failed because those people did not have voting rights,” Turner said before suggesting the city appoint a voting member to the shelter’s board.

“And so the only option they had to voice their opinions was to resign in protest.”

Both city and county ex-officio officers – 911 dispatcher Katie Sewell and Constable Floyd Hockensmith, respectively – resigned after an alleged dognapping incident in June led to misdemeanor charges against board member Stephanie Bramblet and Barbara Murray, a shelter volunteer.

Both have pleaded not guilty in Franklin District Court, and Hockensmith pursued charges in the case.

Wilder also suggested holding a public hearing to either dispel or verify rumors surrounding the shelter.

He cited rumblings that the humane society’s board used money from a fund set for spaying and neutering services to help balance the shelter’s books, planned a mass euthanasia, refused to accept animals surrendered by owners and allegedly broke the law.

“My two cents is that with folks looking to us for leadership on this and clearly counting on us to at least be some kind of neutral referee, and I know this is wading into an unpleasant storm, but I wouldn’t be opposed to us actually holding a formal hearing on this at some point and just inviting folks from both camps to get in, get on the record, figure out … just where the truth lies,” Wilder said.

Commissioner May cautioned against becoming too involved in the business of the humane society’s board.

“… The city manager, I believe, would be someone who could step in and offer guidance, but we’d spend an awful lot of time on this board dealing with a lot of private issues if we start opening that door and getting involved in that when we have enough of the basic government services that we have to keep up with,” May said.

Wilder agreed but said the city should take everything surrounding the humane society into account when reevaluating its contract with the shelter.

City Manager Fred Goins said he’d meet with a humane society representative. City and humane society representatives, by contract, are supposed to meet at least once every three months.

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