Since signing an $80,000 annual contract to provide animal sheltering and emergency pickup services for Bradley County, the nonprofit SPCA of Bradley County reportedly has been plagued with internal bickering between staff and volunteers, volatile debate among its board members in public gatherings and confusion over policies and procedures.
The furor has escalated over the past few weeks in a “he said, she said” forum that likely is leaving community residents scratching their heads, while others surely are asking, “What’s next?”
Personality conflicts between key players within SPCA — primarily the nonprofit’s president, Betti Gravelle, and former shelter director Bobbi Anderson — are obviously suspect. But the endless joust has bled into all-out power plays that have apparently alienated volunteers, board members, community observers and even county commissioners.
Volunteers and board members are taking sides, and this has done little more than further fuel the internal flame.
These dramatic twists and turns came to a head last Monday when Gravelle — in a public setting for all to see — openly fired Anderson on charges of insubordination stemming from an alleged failure to respond to a law enforcement officer’s call for assistance. Board members — three of whom were new and attending their first board session as voting members — ratified the president’s decision on a split 5-3 tally.
Anderson’s supporters included board treasurer Jack Burke Jr., and County Commissioners Charlotte Peak-Jones and Mark Hall. Those voting to dismiss the director — at Gravelle’s recommendation — were board member Michael Guedron, Gravelle and all three new members: Perk Evans, a Cleveland businessman; Dan Rawls, an incoming Bradley County commissioner; and Chris Turner, a current member of the Bradley County Board of Education. Evans made the motion which was seconded by Guedron.
The fact that all three new board members went along with Gravelle’s ill-timed actions is questionable enough, but the way she went about it is inexcusable.
Since the tumultuous board meeting six days ago, the drama has heightened further.
Consider these developments:
1. Peak-Jones, an SPCA board member representing county government who has worked tirelessly to calm the internal storm, has resigned. Her actions came in direct response to the board’s decision to dismiss Anderson, whom Peak-Jones had supported throughout this chaotic ordeal.
2. Peak-Jones has spoken to the state comptroller’s office with concerns over perceived conflicts of interest by Gravelle regarding her reported involvement with three nonprofit organizations: SPCA, Dixie Day Spay (aka Dixie Day/Neuter Express) which provides vetting services to the shelter and Cleveland for a No-Kill City whose volunteers provide animal rescue for the shelter. She was advised this type of issue must be handled through a conflict-of-interest board.
3. Treasurer [Jack] Burke also has resigned his board seat, citing an inability to do his job on the SPCA board since Monday when he opposed Gravelle’s move to fire Anderson.
4. Dixie Day Spay, also founded by Gravelle, has been cited, reprimanded and fined for violations by the Tennessee Department of Public Health. According to state documents, it “Failed to comply with the minimum standards for drug procedures, to wit: failed to keep a record of all drugs administered or dispensed, failed to distribute prescription drugs only within a veterinarian-client-patient relationship.” The fine imposed was $500.
5. Peak-Jones has called for Gravelle’s resignation, saying she believes SPCA “... can be functional and a great benefit to our community,” but only if the current president steps down.
6. Anderson has charged certain SPCA board members with illegally searching her personal possessions on the night of her exile from the animal shelter.
Saddest of all in this ongoing debacle are two eye-openers.
One, just three weeks ago this newspaper editorially urged — perhaps “begged” is the better word — those involved in the internal SPCA and animal shelter skirmish to find a common ground (namely, their much-appreciated love for neglected or abused animals). Evidenced by Anderson’s dismissal, this obviously did not happen.
Two, the SPCA board violated its own decision to impose a 30-day moratorium on any dismissals (the attempt to fire Anderson had been made previously) in order to give Gravelle and Anderson time to implement what the SPCA president described as an operational model for the shelter — a model Gravelle says was never given a reasonable chance by Anderson.
The county animal shelter, SPCA, Cleveland for a No-Kill City, Dixie Day Spay and other volunteer groups, and individuals, are seeking the same goal — to provide for the protection and humane treatment of Bradley County’s unloved domestic animals who otherwise would have no voice. But they can’t agree on how to best do it.
This is why the time has come for the Bradley County Commission to get involved — directly.
SPCA is being paid $80,000 by the county to provide a service based on the organization’s own bid. From most accounts we receive, the efforts — no matter how well-intentioned — are falling short.
Dissention within the SPCA ranks apparently is one of the causes.
As with most issues of human debate, no one is entirely right nor is anyone totally wrong. All can take pride in SPCA’s successes. All can accept blame for its failures. And each is entitled to an opinion.
This is why county commissioners must step in to deliver this terse directive to SPCA: “Shape up or ship out.”
We hope the message will be delivered as early as the Monday night work session of the Bradley County Commission. If not, then hopefully as soon as possible — such as when the new County Commission, with seven fresh faces and unbiased perspectives, takes the helm.
The time to act is now.
The reason to act is by public mandate.
People are tired of seeing headlines about the ongoing squabbles that have infested the SPCA.
And so are we.