SPCA Board President Betti Gravelle moved to dismiss SPCA county animal shelter director Bobbi Anderson at Monday night’s emergency board meeting, but the two will now find themselves working together for at least the next 30 days.
The meeting was called after Anderson refused to take new animals late last week when the shelter went over capacity. She said there was not enough staff to adequately care for the animals.
The director also wanted to renegotiate the contract with the county which states the SPCA “agrees to provide sheltering of all domestic animals brought to the facility by Bradley County residents at no charge.”
Visual evidence of the split among animal advocates was evident as the 100-plus who were there were split into two sides of the County Commission meeting room and their reactions showed which side — Gravelle or Anderson — they supported.
SPCA board member and County Commissioner Charlotte Peak-Jones was named interim secretary and moderated the meeting.
Peak-Jones reminded board members of their responsibilities and noted the June meeting was canceled because of the ongoing puppy mill situation at the time and the July meeting had no quorum.
She also reviewed the history where the original five-member board approved the operating budget of $80,000.
“We have a plan and we have by-laws,” Peak-Jones said.
She also presented the list of 13 animal groups who had given letters of intent to assist SPCA.
“I just want to know where are these animal groups that gave letters of intent to help with SPCA?” she said. “I think the water has been clouded and muddied and everybody wants to jump on the bandwagon, but the commitment is sometimes not there.”
Peak-Jones also said she wanted to see the plans for fundraising and grant opportunities implemented, which was the responsibility of former communications director Beth Foster, who was not in attendance at the meeting.
Peak-Jones asked why the budget was not working “only one month into the fiscal year.”
Treasurer Jack Burke Jr. reported there was $28,063 in the checking account.
“There is $2,220 set aside for adoption fees which are sent straight to the veterinarian clinic,” Burke said.
Gravelle said Dixie Day Spay, the business she operates, is billing $30 for cats and $40 per dog with what is paid for out of the adoption fee.
“Technically, it’s a wash,” she said.
Peak-Jones asked about the SPCA assets which were listed as a van.
Gravelle said it was in the Dixie Day Spay parking lot.
The board then came to the issues which were brought to light by Anderson’s actions, which she later explained in a candid interview published in Sunday’s edition of the Cleveland Daily Banner.
Board member and County Commissioner Mark Hall said there was the awareness “where there’s growth, there’s growing pains.”
“Even though I believe everyone’s motives are pure, I still sense that there’s friction and it disturbs me,” Hall said. “Until we learn to get along, nothing’s going to get accomplished.”
He asked for everyone on the board to “divorce your ego for 30 days and let the dust settle.”
“It’s hard for me to keep my mouth shut when I see things heading in the wrong direction,” Hall added. “So, I want to put the brakes on it tonight. I want us to work as a team and be unified. We have 120 dogs that need to be adopted out today.”
Despite all, he said he still believes in the project and “we can make good things happen.”
“I’m not ready to give up yet,” Hall said.
Peak-Jones then said there needed to be a capacity limit set at the shelter.
Anderson said that number would be “half of what we have right now.”
“What we have right now is 125 and that is not what is on the waiting list and that would be another 100 we would have in there right now,” she said.
She said there were only two people. If there were more, with more funding, the shelter could handle more.
“We’re not willing to take on more animals than we can properly care for,” Anderson said.
Peak-Jones noted the two-year contract was up for renegotiation after one year, but being one month into the fiscal year makes such talks difficult.
“Was the $80,000 deceiving the Commission? I don’t know,” she said. “I know the budget looked good. The pro forma looked good. All the things that were submitted with the application looked good,” she said, suggesting a capacity of 65.
Burke made the motion, but board member Michael Guedron said it would be better to “push some pencils” to get some numbers instead of arbitrarily setting a number. He was concerned that it was being represented that there were only two people staffing the shelter when there were volunteers also working.
Burke said there was a budget that guaranteed two [paid] people and volunteers can never be guaranteed from day to day.
Agreement was reached to have those numbers available for August.
Peak-Jones asked if the documents that were in Foster’s possession, which included the list of donors and how much, could be retrieved by the next meeting.
Burke said she had replied in an email she would turn everything over.
“But, she has not,” he said. “The last information I got from her was in April.”
Board members were given sample volunteer applications supplied by Anderson for review and possible approval next month.
Peak-Jones then turned the floor over to Anderson to express her concerns.
“My two biggest concerns were the budget so we could get more employees and a cap on the amount of animals that are allowed into the shelter,” Anderson said.
“It’s physically impossible for us to do the best we can for the animals no matter how much we do.”
Gravelle followed with her comments.
“When you set limits on capacity, when you say this is what we’re going to take. What you’re saying is you’ve now become a kill shelter,” she said. “We have now become a kill shelter.”
“When you say it can’t work because we don’t have enough money, then it is not going to work because we cannot go back, I will not go back and ask for more money.”
She said she stood in front of every person there and “made promises I cannot deliver.”
“When we say it’s a complete and total disaster, when we say we’re embarrassed to be a part of it, we’re ashamed of this community ... I’m proud of this community and I do believe this will work. Will it work with the model that is happening now? Absolutely not.”
She said she had witnesses where she had begged Anderson to make changes by “taking out things rescue groups will not work with; to not say one thing and do another; do not send me an email that says no stipulations and you hit a wall with stipulations when you enter that property.”
“If you doubt anything I’m saying, there’s 50 people out there who can back me up,” she said. “It will not work. By Bobbi’s own admission it will not work.”
“I’m telling you it’s a kill shelter as of today if we don’t have a different director and different people running it,” Gravelle continued.
She said she would walk away and many others would if it becomes a kill shelter.
“The only way to change it is with a new director and to put this thing in a new direction tonight,” she said.
Gravelle then made “a motion for Bobbi’s dismissal and for interim people to come in and turn this thing around and sit back to find a director to follow through with the vision with everything this organization was founded on with the years of work that went in to making it happen and to not decide that the solution is to kill the animals of Bradley County.”
The motion was seconded by Guedron.
Burke said there had not been one person he has seen at the shelter who has not “worked their butt off from the time it opens to the time it closes and then past that.”
“I totally agree,” Gravelle interjected.
“I have been over there and have witnessed that you [Gravelle] think you can get animals out of there without doing the paperwork,” Burke said.
“Those same people accuse our side of not following through on paperwork and those people refuse to do paperwork. I will not be a part of that. If we’re going to spend taxpayers’ money, we’re going to be accountable.”
Those remarks brought applause from half of the audience.
Gravelle continuously pointed out a model she had originally developed as the way to make the shelter operate successfully and said it had never been put into place.
She said there were four specific items she wanted done: staff members to take pictures from 3 until 6 p.m. Monday through Friday; documentation of animals being brought in and out; collection of points of contact for information on the animals; and having an avenue for potential adopters who cannot come by during shelter hours to fill out paperwork.
Hall entered a substitute motion to place a 30-day stay on any dismissals which was seconded by Burke and passed 3-2 with Gravelle and Guedron in the opposition.
“Instead of a knee-jerk reaction, I think we need to make sure this is in the best interest of this body and the constituents of Bradley County,” Hall said.
Peak-Jones then made a separate motion.
Holding the papers in the air she said, “This model was set up by Betti Gravelle. Everything at the top of these pieces of paper is Betti Gravelle’s worksheets, Betti Gravelle’s everything, donations, fundraising plans. This is her plan. Her budget.”
“I want to see it work. I know she wants to see it work,” Peak-Jones said.
Her motion was made to have Gravelle go back to the shelter and “start implementing this and we follow Betti’s plan” for the next 30 days with Anderson retaining her position as director of the shelter.
Gravelle said she had “an army behind me — Cleveland for No Kill City. And, Cleveland for No Kill City has not been able to do what they do. That was my plan.”
Peak-Jones asked if they could also follow the protocol of paperwork that the county is requiring “and we haven’t been getting.”
“What paperwork?” Gravelle asked.
“Any paperwork,” Peak-Jones replied. “We need the documentation of the animals. Everybody needs to follow the rules. Can everybody follow the rules or is there so much animosity between the groups they can’t see past their hands or their egos to get along to help implement this?”
“It depends on what the rules are,” Gravelle said which brought groans from some of those in attendance.
“If they abide by the same rules they have at Cleveland Animal Control, it would probably work. If every rescue has to sign a confidentiality clause, nobody is going to sign that,” Gravelle added, returning to her original four points.
Peak-Jones’ motion passed with four yes votes and Burke voting no.
She said Cleveland for No Kill “needs to go directly to Betti. But, they don’t need to override Bobbi at her facility.”
The board will meet again in the county commission meeting room Aug. 18 at 7 p.m.