“The honeymoon is over,” stated Bradley County Commissioner and SPCA board member Mark Hall, referring to the relationship between the county and the nonprofit organization.
However, the timing or possibility of a divorce of the two parties remains an uncertainty.
In a scathing critique of the organization and the actions of its board and president, Hall went as far as to ask for a special called voting session for Thursday afternoon to consider the termination of the contract between the SPCA and the county to run the county animal shelter and control.
The move failed when only four members signed a petition to hold such a meeting.
The rules of the Commission require eight signatures for action.
Prior to the attempt, Hall stated a point of clarification that he and Commissioner Charlotte Peak-Jones were not members of the SPCA, but were “the mayor’s appointment to the SPCA board.”
The contract between the two entities requires two commissioners be seated as part of the SPCA board of directors. Peak-Jones has resigned her post on the board.
“We have worked to address any issue that may arise and to make this a smooth transition,” Hall said.
He said his goals were to intercept animals on the way to the city pound, “to give them a better chance for success and to eliminate some congestion at the city pound.”
Hall said he had also hoped to “save taxpayers $800 a day.”
“Neither has been accomplished,” he said.
He described being at last week’s SPCA meeting in which the board, in a 5-3 vote, accepted SPCA President Betti Gravelle’s termination of former shelter director Bobbi Anderson.
“For the record, I will never, ever, ever fire someone in a public meeting in front of a group of 80 people,” Hall said. “I’m just not going to do it. You can call it ‘courtroom ambush,’ you can call it a ‘witch hunt’ or you can call it ‘disrespectful.’ The only thing that was more disrespectful than firing her was not allowing her to speak.”
Referring to the Pledge of Allegiance that was spoken at the beginning of the meeting, Hall said the group had just said “for liberty and justice for all.”
“But, apparently it did not apply to that young lady that night,” he said.
He called the SPCA “inefficient, ineffective and dysfunctional.”
“I will not ask my constituents to endure one more day of this,” Hall said. “I will never support or endorse any action that is not in the best interests of Bradley County. I wish we had the same level of enthusiasm in finding foster homes for our children.
“The honeymoon is over. It’s time for Bradley County to terminate the relationship with SPCA and explore other options,” Hall said. “I also think it’s important for our accountants to look at the books and make sure that every penny that belongs to the taxpayers is accounted for.”
Hall said he would not be resigning from the SPCA board.
“My constituents did not send me here to resign, they sent me here to make decisions on their behalf, regardless of how uncomfortable it may be,” he said.
“If it takes three pages of the newspaper to cover one SPCA meeting, we’ve hooked our wagon to the wrong horse,” Hall said.
Hall said the organization had never had a stronger advocate than himself. He said it was important to him for the arrangement to work.
“It was a good thing, and a county our size deserves some form of animal control,” Hall said. “But, we do not have it today.”
Commissioner Ed Elkins expressed his opinion that not all the information had been heard. It would be best to allow the new Commission to take the reins on the matter.
“I have a concern that in the course of the last two or three months, we have been back and forth in some very emotional meetings,” Elkins said. “It seems to me one week there’s information comes up that says this is what we ought to do, and the next week there’s information comes up that says something different.”
He said the board has new directors and he wanted to hear what they had to say before he made a decision.
“I hate to see us make a knee-jerk reaction. It’s been back and forth all ready,” Elkins said, saying he was also concerned about what legal ramifications the Commission “might be opening up ourselves for.”
Commissioner Jeff Yarber noted Gravelle herself had said there were violations of the contract.
“I sat here at the last Commission meeting and said at the next one Bobbi Anderson wouldn’t be here and she’s not here,” Yarber said.
He said he had respect for the three new SPCA board members — Dan Rawls, Perk Evans and Chris Turner — but, “three people are not going to make this thing work.”
Yarber also questioned why a law officer was at the meeting of the nonprofit last Monday.
“I was told it was because there were two county commissioners on the board. Well, Adam Lowe and I sit on the museum board together and we don’t have a security officer there.
“There have been several breaches of contract and a good individual was let go because of that,” Yarber said.
“I told you two weeks ago this is imploding and it’s about to explode,” he said. “Guess what? It’s imploding more and it’s getting ready to explode even more.”
Commissioner Terry Caywood noted the $80,000 annually paid to SPCA is paid quarterly and is currently paid up through September.
“Whether we like it or not, money is an issue,” Caywood said. “We’re paid up through September and I want to look further into what’s going on.”
Commissioner Connie Wilson said during her 12 years on the Commission “we’ve never put such time into one subject as we have this item.”
“I’m just stunned it’s still going on,” Wilson said. “Quite honestly, the new Commission takes office next Tuesday, and I think it would be a great thing for them to come up with a solution and handle it.”
She said her wish was the Commission had put as much time into Lake Forest school or supplementing The Caring Place or the industrial parks as had been put into the animal shelter.
Yarber said he was told any questions to the SPCA board would be “out of line” and that any questions should be directed to the two Commission representatives, “and what our representatives said is what we’d go by.”
“Now that our representatives are telling us what the majority does not want to hear, we want to hear from other people,” Yarber said.
Hall addressed Elkins, saying he had heard from the SPCA board.
“I just happen to be the only one left,” Hall said. “Everybody else is gone. I don’t see why we have to drop this sloppy issue into the laps of the new Commission. If we [are not] proactive on this, this time next year we’re still going to be hearing a lot about it. We’re not a bit better than we were five months ago and these three [shelter] directors [who were there], they were the choice of Miss Gravelle. We endorsed them. All three of them are gone.”
Commissioner Bill Winters said “this Commission did this,” and needed to give the new Commission the opportunity to start over.
“I applaud Commissioner Hall for bringing this up to move quickly on it,” Winters said.
Winters said it appalled him to have representatives of the SPCA board, who are given the opportunity to express themselves to County Commission, “have one of the first actions they [take being] to tell somebody not to speak [at their meeting].”
“That was appalling to people who read this in the paper,” Winters said. “That particular meeting congealed a lot of my constituents to say we don’t need to be working with people who won’t follow protocol with meetings and won’t follow policies.”
After the failure to get the required eight signatures for a special called meeting, Hall asked the item of contract termination be placed on the Sept. 2 voting session agenda, which will be the first meeting of the new Commission.
That meeting will begin at 7 that evening.
An SPCA board meeting is also scheduled for that day beginning at 5:30 p.m. in the Commission meeting room.