Animal shelter head resigns; interim appointment questioned
by BRIAN GRAVES Banner Staff Writer
Mar 25, 2014 | 1071 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print

The sudden resignation from the Bradley County Animal Shelter brought questions during Monday’s Bradley County Commission workshop.

According to SPCA Board President Betti Gravelle, Jack Cooper emailed his resignation from the post Saturday evening.

The vacancy occurred less than one week after the shelter had a ribbon cutting and came under the control of the SPCA.

She asked Jack Burke, who is a former member and treasurer of the board, to take the position on an interim basis.

That prompted the questioning from 5th District Commissioner Jeff Yarber.

“I don’t want to be out of bounds here, but I was told when I asked questions about this it was not up to the County Commission. There are two commissioners who sit on the [animal shelter] board.”

Yarber then made the point the shelter was being funded in part by tax dollars provided by the Commission.

“If the County Commission really has no oversight or insight into the animal shelter, then I’ll back off,” Yarber said. “Everybody knew my stance when this first came into fruition. It wasn’t anything about SPCA. They seem like great people. It wasn’t about the Ark. They seem like great people.”

He then asked about inquiries he had gotten from some residents who told him they were informed animals could only be dropped off by appointment.

Gravelle said that was incorrect, but the drop-offs had to be done during the shelter’s regular operating hours.

Those hours are noon through 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, and 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Saturdays.

Gravelle said some of the confusion may stem from the slightly different hours maintained by Animal Control, which is open from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m.

Yarber lauded the volunteerism of the SPCA members who assist at the shelter, saying any criticism “was not personal.”

He then asked about the director’s situation.

“What happened to the director?” Yarber asked.

Gravelle said she had been working with volunteers at the shelter when she left for supplies and food.

“I got a phone call from board member Josh Serum, who said he had received an email from [shelter director] Jack Cooper saying he had resigned,” Gravelle said.

“So, I left and drove back to the SPCA. Jack Burke was still there working, and I expressed we were a work in progress and we needed someone who knew it from the floor up.”

Fourth District Commissioner J. Adam Lowe interrupted, saying he was “uncomfortable” with discussing a personnel issue.

Yarber said the shelter was “a nonprofit that was county funded.”

“It’s also a private individual and a matter of personnel records,” Lowe said.

“I’m just trying to find out what are our boundaries,” Yarber said.

District 7 Commissioner Mark Hall, who also serves on the shelter board, said he understood Yarber’s concerns.

“The director resigned and Betti appointed an interim. It’s my understanding that Commissioner Yarber disagrees with her decision,” Hall said. “I was unaware all of this was going on. I found out about this [Sunday].”

He said he hoped he was a good liaison between the Commission and the SPCA.

“I hope both sides feel comfortable coming to me and addressing and concerns they have. I promise you whatever it is, I’ll do my best to take care of it,” Hall said.

“But, [Gravelle] had a decision to make and I don’t think there was anything malicious about it. I think her motives were pure.”

He said Gravelle’s main concern was the care and safety of the animals in the shelter.

“All of this other shrapnel and injuries along the way ... I’m not so sure she can be held responsible for that,” Hall said.

He also reminded commissioners the organization of the shelter is completely new.

“It’s going to take a while to get your legs under you,” Hall said. “Many of these people are volunteers who are paid absolutely nothing and where there is growth, there is growing pains.”

Hall said the appointment of the interim director should have had the endorsement of the shelter board.

“She shot from the hip. She had a choice to make and she made the best choice for the animals,” Hall said. “Hopefully, we’ve learned from this. I ask this Commission to move forward. It’s an interim position. It’s not long term until we get the right personnel in place.”

Gravelle told the commissioners she was “the least politically savvy person in the country.”

“My whole body has been embedded in animal work for 30 years,” Gravelle said. “I’m still learning ‘Robert’s Rules of Order.’ I’ve got so much to learn.”

She said her thinking at the time was to call everyone and say the situation was taken care of, and things were still running.

“Little did I know that’s not how it works in the political arena,” Gravelle said. “I apologize. I know with 100 percent of my being I made the best decision for the animals. That was my option and I took it.”

Gravelle told the Banner Cooper’s resignation email was “very courteous and nice.”

“Jack was more of an animal control person as opposed to a shelter person,” she said. “He just felt there was too wide a difference in visions as to how the shelter and his position should operate.”

Gravelle said she was not sure how soon the shelter board would meet to consider appointing a full-time replacement to the director’s position.