Friday, May 25, 2012


For as long as the SCPR has been existed (working on 5 years now), the Stark County Dog Pound (SCDP - Pound) has experienced problem after problem after problem after problem.

The Report has never believed that former boards of commissioners were inclined to or, better to the point, were up to solving the problems at the Pound. 

With the election of former Canton mayor Janet Creighton (a Republican) and former Canton law director Thomas Bernabei (a Democrat) in November, 2012, The Report was hopeful that "at long last" Stark Countians would see some effective executive leadership exercised to restore public confidence in the operations of county government. 

Generally, the SCPR has been positive about Creighton and Bernabei and the "breath of fresh air" they have brought to the office.

Because of them, Stark County government is much more accessible, accountable, communicative, open and transparent.

Moreover, because of the trust they have built up with the Stark County electorate, they have been able to partially solve the financial crisis that threatened to bring county government operations to a near grinding halt.
Their invigorated leadership convinced Stark Countians in November, 2011 to trust them to manage with a newly voted in 0.5% sales tax for a term of eight years.

One-half percent probably was all that was politically doable given the downturn in the economy that began in 2008, and given the turmoil that erupted in the Stark County treasurer's office in April, 2009.

The sales tax should have been 1% if the county was going to be able to move forward with bold initiatives to solve a number of countywide problems (e.g. the decrepit conditions of the Stark County ditching system).

For all that they have done, the commissioners (including Pete Ferguson who is not running for re-election), deserve plaudits.

However, this board of commissioners in the opinion of the SCPR continues "to stumble and bumble" as did previous boards on getting the operations of the Stark County Dog Pound in order.

The SCPR has covered the goings on at the SCDP more consistently and more thoroughly than any other Stark County media outlet.

Accordingly, sources who want the problems solved "once and for all" have turned to The Report with information about the exceedingly slow degree to which commissioners (through its chief administrator Mike Hanke) are solving the persisting problems at the Pound.

A matter that has plagued the Pound over its recent history are allegations of hiring for positions at the facility on the basis of political or inside connections and that the general public has not had a fair chance to apply for and be considered for these public jobs.

Even when the current dog pound warden Reagan Tetreault was hired (effective - May 24, 2010), there was a tussle between the then-commissioners (Bosley, Ferguson and Meeks) and a body known as the Stark County Dog Pound Advisory Board (SCDPAB) as to how much say the advisory board had as to whom would be hired. 

The SCDPAB had a group of its members comb through the applications and narrow the list.  When a person appeared on the final list that the advisory board had not recommended be on it, "all Hell broke loose."  Go to this SCPR blog LINK for a more detailed description of the incident.

The compromise solution resulted in the hiring of Tetreault.

Interestingly enough, the "favoritism" allegation has been raised again in the replacement of a departing dispatcher during this the Tetreault regime of onsite management at the Pound.

It turns out that the new hire Tessa Neville formerly worked for Tetreault at the Holmes County from July 2009 through Treteault's departure for the Stark County job in May, 2010.

One SCDPAB member tells the SCPR that there was a Stark Countian with credentials at least the equal of Neville that should have been hired (assuming all things being equal) because the applicant is a Stark Countians.

Because the Stark County commissioners go to great pains in the course of their meetings (which the SCPR attends pretty much week in and week out) when they are letting contracts to inquire as to why there were no Stark County bids with attendant statements that they prefer to find Stark County business with equally competitive bids to award contracts to, The Report felt that the SCDPAB member source had a good point.

Yours truly asked Commissioner Creighton that question point blank.

Her response?  She said that indeed the preference (of course, speaking only for herself, but The Report believes that Ferguson and Bernabei concur) is to hire Stark Countians - "all things being equal."

Creighton did not nor did any other commissioner participate in the interviews.  There were 27 applicants and the list was narrowed down to seven for interview.  Warden Tetreault and Stark County Chief Administrator Mike Hanke conducted the interviews.  Mike Hanke is on vacation and is not available for The Report to talk to.

It is quite understandable that the complaining (to the SCPR) SCDPAB member would be distressed that Neville was hired when it came out that the two had worked together in Holmes County.

Creighton tells The Report that she quizzed Tetreault thoroughly to find out whether or not there was a special relationship (e.g. do you hang out together a la person friends do) between the two that advantaged Neville over other applicants.

Creighton further says that she was satisfied with the explanation by Tetreault that Neville was hired because she had more impressive credentials than the SCDPAB member's preferred Stark County-based applicant.

The Report obtained copies of the applications (via a public records request) of the seven finalists interviewed for the dispatcher position.
From what The Report sees from a review of the overall applications of the two contenders cited above, the credentials seem to be pretty much of a wash and therefore one has to wonder what happened to the Stark County preferred criterion that the commissioners say they heed.

It could be that something surfaced in the interview that made it apparent to Tetreault and Hanke that Neville was "head and shoulders" over her competitor in qualifications for the job.  Such is certainly not apparent from a reading of the resumes themselves.

Creighton said that such (the results of the interview) was the case.   But she was unable to provide specifics.

Nonetheless, one can understand the skepticism that the prior employment connection between Tetreault and the hiree was not a factor in determining who got the Stark County taxpayer provided job.

The Report believes that the hiring decision will make it more difficult for the SCDPAB, the commissioners and the warden to work harmoniously towards realizing their common objectives.

Accordingly, Tetreault is to be held accountable for her hiring decision making judgment skills.  Ant the SCPR will be watching closely.

To repeat, there appears to the SCPR to be a wary relationship between the officialdom of the commissioners and the dog warden, on one hand,  and members of the SCDPAB, on the other hand, who are concerned about policies, procedures, practices and the quality of facilities at the Pound.

While it seems that the commissioners appreciate the dedication and commitment of the SCDPAB membership to the well-being of the dogs processed through the Pound, the commissioners are firm in their determination to have a line of demarcation between those who have official responsibilities and those who are advisers.

More than any other board of commissioners, the sensitivity of the relationship notwithstanding, the current board has made significant progress on resolving the complaints of the membership of the SCDPAB and others.

Recently, the SCDPAB submitted a quarterly report to the commissioners with the following positives about solving the problems at the Pound.
  • euthanasia numbers are down,
  • accurate completion of inbound dog paperwork is improved,
  • improved communication on dog rescues resulting in more adoptions,
  • better management of "catch pole" use,
  • effective management of rodent infestation, and
  • cleaning protocols are improved
That same report also list lingering problems.
  • poor customer services to those wanting to adopt a dog,
  • a "spay-and-neuter" program is practically non-existent,
  • promised facility improvements have not materialized, to wit:
    • mats for small dogs,
    • a rework of the ventilation system, and
    • building of additional outdoor runs.
  • compared to the Wayne County Dog Pound (privatized) and the Summit County Dog Pound (run by the county), Stark's operation markedly comes up short on the matter of accountability,
  • Stark should mimic Summit by having:
    • clearly communicated job descriptions and standards of performance in writing,
    • published cleaning, watering and feeding schedules, and
    • a written schedule of "spot-checks" of the facility.
Yours truly spoke at some length with Commissioner Janet Creighton after last Wednesday's regular board meeting about the persisting problems at the Pound.

Tetrault has been dog warden for a full two years now and the SCPR believes that it is telling that many of the problems she faced when she first took charge still persist.

Creighton did obtain the following responses on various problem matters that were contained in the SCDPAB report and which yours truly specifically addressed to the commissioners office, to wit:
  • as to the ventilation system improvement project, the commissioners have just approved mechanical engineering bids for the design of the project,
  • while it is claimed that the spay/neuter program has not been dismantled, Warden Tetreault admits that her attempt to attract veterinarians to a program that would make spay and neuter available for $50 each has been unsuccessful.  Moreover, in the meantime adopters are provided the opportunity to obtain spay and neutering at the One of a Kind Spay and Neuter Clinic located in the 1700 block of West Market Street in Akron,
  • establishing an "in-house" veterinarian program for general medical treatments is a work-in-progress which should be up and running soon, and
  • mat material has arrived at the Pound for cutting to size to provide mats for the smaller cages.
Basically, Commissioner Creighton said that resolving chronic problems takes time and that:
  • it does not help any that the SCDPAB seems bent on being the "tail that wags the dog" (the SCPR's coined characterization; not Creighton's),
  • and that there is discord among competing organizations/groups (e.g. The Humane Society, the Friends of the Pound, the SCDPAB and Animal Welfare of Stark County) as to exactly what the commissioners ought to be doing to solve the problems at the Pound.
The SCPR's take on the commissioners' attitude on solving the problems at the Pound is that of being generally annoyed with the Stark County Dog Pound Advisory Board.  And The Report's take is not based merely on last Wednesday's sit down with Commissioner Creighton.  This attitude has been communicated in various and sundry ways by not just this board of commissioners.  It goes back a number of years.

Creighton did muse to yours truly as to how the SCDPAB got started in the first place.  She says that there appears to be no underlying legal requirement/authority for a prior board of commissioners having done so.

To The Report, her reflection is evidence of the commissioners' ongoing frustration with the SCDPAB.

And The Report thinks that Warden Tetreault has picked up on the commissioners' being irritated with the advisers as a cover for dragging her feet in communicating with, working with, and problem solving with the SCDPAB members and others who desperately want to make the problems at the Pound to be occasional and an aberration and not "par for the course" as now seems to be the case.

As stated above, the SCPR is impressed with the work that the Bernabei/Creighton-led board of commissioners (as compared to previous boards) has done in making county departments of government more responsive to Stark County citizens and taxpayers.

It would be a shame for the commissioners to lose the overall confidence and trust of the Stark County electorate over something like chronic and persisting problems at the Pound.

And make no mistake about it, Stark Countians like all Americans do love their dogs and want them properly cared for when they are entrusted to the care of government.

Knowing that the commissioners do not like outsiders weighing in on how they do the public's business, in particular with reference to the Stark County Dog Pound; yours truly nonetheless takes on the audacity to suggest to them that they develop a published list of problems and solutions on a timeline and thereby hold themselves accountable to the taxpayers of Stark County.

Some money (according to Creighton) has been taken out of the capital fund to expedite facility problem solving projects.  Financing of fixes at the Pound should be no problem.  The Pound is an enterprise type fund which means that he should be self-supporting through fees for service provided.

Last year, the commissioners imposed a fee increase.  Accordingly, there is little if any room for the commissioners to say they do not have adequate funding.

Moreover, rather than be annoyed with and resistant to outsiders, they should embrace those of us who want to interact with our governors and thereby fashion remedies that are beneficial to all.

From what the SCPR has seen of the SCDPAB, it is doing a valuable and worthy work on keeping the heat on to fix the seemingly eternal problems at the Pound.

The commissioners are right to maintain ownership of the remediation effort. 

However, to make their remake of county government to be continuingly creditable, it is important that they endeavor to make solving the ongoing Pound problems a collaboration and thereby show that citizen/government interaction can be a productive effort.

The only remaining question is whether not the commissioners have the will to "once and for all" solved the Pound problems which as "dogged" Stark County for all too many years!

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