SPCA President Betti Gravelle said she liked Bobbi Anderson “in my gut from the beginning” when she was hired five months ago to be the director of the county animal shelter run by the organization.
That view had changed as Gravelle’s second attempt to remove Anderson from the post was successful Monday night, after the SPCA president brought accusations of what she termed “insubordination.”
And one county commissioner is accusing Gravelle of setting up Anderson to fail and of conflicts of interest concerning the three nonprofits of which she is a part.
By any set of standards, it was a meeting with the appearance of no rules of order as one member fought to speak and the accused was continuously denied the ability to defend her actions.
The start of the meeting brought three new members to the SPCA board, including Perk Evans, future County Commissioner Dan Rawls and school board member Chris Turner, all of whom were unanimously approved.
Commissioner and board member Charlotte Peak-Jones added a motion to add current County Commissioner Jeff Morelock to the slate as of Sept. 1, but withdrew that motion in order that it be considered after Morelock leaves the Commission.
Peak-Jones then made a motion to suspend the rules in order to make a “10-minute statement” which received a second from Commissioner and board member Mark Hall.
“Well, we have an agenda,” Gravelle said. “If we have anything else to review we can stick it [at the end].”
Peak-Jones noted Robert’s Rules of Order required a vote.
Turner called for discussion of the motion and Evans said the bylaws did not state the board would use the Rules of Order.
“I would move to suspend any rules so that I have 10 minutes before the full agenda is taken up,” Peak-Jones said.
Commissioner and board member (Mark) Hall then suggested “New Business” be moved to the beginning of the agenda to allow Peak-Jones a chance to speak.
Gravelle made that item “4.5” which would come after Item No. 3 which was “Director Status.”
She asked Anderson to give an update and “address the five items I have asked for, please.”
Anderson said as for open intake, the shelter was not doing open intake except for Mondays.
“We are filling in spaces a lot during the week,” Anderson said.
As far as emergency response, Anderson said a new response book has been prepared, admitting “we haven’t done that well in the past.”
“Now we have a new 911 book we take to every incident where we are called,” she said.
Anderson said a new book “which has worked beautifully” allows the intake and outtake numbers to be done on a more regular basis.
She said the numbers as of Monday were 44 dogs, 12 cats, 7 puppies and 22 kittens.
Anderson said there were a lot of volunteer programs ready to implement “but we need to run it by the board first.”
On overall operations, Anderson said “we’re coming along very nicely.”
She noted the shelter was trying to “form relationships that have never been formed and lay foundations that have never been formed.”
Anderson went through a long list — almost three minutes — of positions, including fundraising and grant writing that she said volunteers had stepped up to take part in.
Gravelle then addressed the comments by Commissioner Jeff Yarber last week, saying the SPCA was not in compliance with the contract with the county.
“That is true. We are not in compliance,” she said. “I want to give you examples how my plan has not been implemented, and in fact has been derailed.”
At last month’s meeting, the board voted to allow Gravelle 30 days to put her plan into action. That 30 days, along with a 30-day moratorium on dismissals, will end next Tuesday.
“There has been banning of people that have been crucial to the ...,” Gravelle said before Peak-Jones interrupted.
“Does this have to do with the old business at hand, because I thought I was next,” Peak-Jones said.
“Yes it is,” Gravelle answered.
“Well, I see ‘Director Status,’ but I don’t see where the president’s report is in here,” Peak-Jones said.
“This is my response to [Anderson],” Gravelle said.
“Are you on site [at the shelter] to be able to respond to her update and status?” Peak-Jones asked Gravelle.
“You did not have to be on site to know there were crucial people banned who were imperative we have them on the board fulfilling this mission,” Gravelle responded.
“It’s back to the drama and the ‘He said, she said,’” Peak-Jones said. “Let’s stick to the facts.”
Gravelle said there was repeated refusal to give access to the software program that “prevents me from auditing the efficiency of this organization.”
She said there had been a “repeated strain of complaints from citizens, but also the County Commission, especially Jeff Yarber, stating this organization is not open intake and is violating its contractual obligations.”
(While Yarber did state that about the contract, at that same Commission meeting he called Anderson “the one positive thing we have who truly cares and is concerned.”)
Gravelle also said a resident who was attempting to surrender a dog was refused.
“This resident was later bitten by the dog. The SPCA hung up on the 911 center and refused further contact,” Gravelle said, stating this was documented in a report from the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office.
(Anderson and three board members said they had not heard of the accusation until Gravelle read it at the meeting.)
“This organizational failure, if left unchecked, is not only in breach of the contract but it’s in violation of our core mission,” Gravelle said.
Both Turner and Rawls noted they had heard things that were in violation of the contract.
“From where I come from, that’s insubordination,” Turner said.
Evans said he had been watching the SPCA for more than a year and a half.
“My question would be why does the SPCA continue to endure, as you have classified it, insubordination and why would it continue to employ a person who has clearly violated, according to the County Commission and most people that are paying attention and her own admission a few moments ago, contractual obligations with Bradley County as well as what seems to be the overall mission and purpose of the SPCA of Bradley County? Why would that person still be employed?”
“That’s a very good question, Mr. Evans,” Gravelle said. “As of now she is no longer employed by the SPCA of Bradley County. Miss Anderson, you are terminated effective immediately.”
Peak-Jones protested, saying it was the board’s responsibility to make that decision, not the president’s.
“If I can have my 10 minutes before ... ma’am, you cannot fire anyone on your own,” Peak-Jones said. “We are borderline.”
Gravelle said if she raised her hand she would be recognized.
Evans then made a motion, “We ratify the actions of this situation by the president.”
It was seconded by board member Michael Guedron.
“To fire Bobbi?” asked board member Jack Burke.
“No, not until I have my 10 minutes, then you can do what you want. This board can have it,” Peak-Jones said.
The vote was taken with Hall, Peak-Jones and Burke voting no.
“We have to take only on Monday. You cannot have an open intake with the amount of floor space we have. And, if I cannot be heard for my 10 minutes before you do this, Madame Chair, I am respectfully asking to be heard before you make this decision,” Peak-Jones said.
Burke said all that had happened was the result of “zero planning from day one.”
“You’ve got to take the vote,” Rawls said.
Peak-Jones then made her statement (see related story for details) which in summary said the board never had a set policy for the shelter, never gave Anderson anything but verbal instructions and questioned Gravelle’s right to insert herself into the operations of the shelter.
She also said the board never formally adopted a no-kill shelter policy.
“You cannot put 10 dogs in one little crate,” Peak-Jones said.
She moved that the board re-implement “policy and hierarchy already set in January.”
“If we had set capacity and all we were supposed to according to what we voted on in February, we wouldn’t have these issues right now,” Peak-Jones said. “We voted on this. We voted on capacity and we voted on guidelines.”
Rawls said he had overlooked everything, “but this situation with the police. I’m sorry, but we’re liable for that. She did not do what she should have done. That was the one thing we had to do; 911 had to be responded to.”
Peak-Jones kept asking to have Anderson allowed to give her explanation, but those pleas fell on deaf ears.
“I think we should hear her side if you’re going to hear everybody else’s side,” she said.
“I don’t think we’re going to hear everybody else’s side. It’s not an open forum,” Gravelle responded.
(See Anderson’s explanation in related story.)
“I’ve been there volunteering, Miss Betti. You’ve not been there day one,” Peak-Jones said. “I don’t see your policy in writing. I think it’s ludicrous this board would vote for anything not in written policy.”
Burke drew applause when he said “a certain group that was supposed to be responsible for this SPCA was protesting instead of going over there and getting their stuff together and getting this thing going from day one.”
“Everything happening today is the result of poor planning by the people who started this from day one,” Burke said.
He said he had been “knee deep” at the shelter helping Anderson “get reports and paperwork together that did not exist and forms that did not exist.”
“I sat here at board meetings and discussed financial issues where we were going in the hole because a certain board member took it upon themselves to go out and bypass board protocol and hire whoever they wanted to,” Burke said. “It destroyed the budget and wiped it completely out. So, yes I have let it be known that I objected to the ludicrous nature of this thing from the get-go.”
He added, “Now, the board has nine members and two employees. Too many chiefs and no Indians.”
Anderson tried to speak again, saying she was hired to “organize something that should have never been opened in the first place.”
Gravelle stopped Anderson, saying “we could do this all night. You are out of order.”
“Moving foward from now,” Gravelle said as she proceeded with the agenda.
“They can have it. I resign,” said Peak-Jones as she took her paperwork and proceeded to leave the room.
“If this board continues to go with your plan without any written policy, it’s ludicrous. The state of Tennessee will investigate this board,” Peak-Jones said.
“Thank you for your concern,” Gravelle responded.
Gravelle said an interim director would be named “at an appropriate time.”