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Published: Tuesday, 11/10/2009

Pete Gerken, Tina Wozniak refuse to fire Lucas County Dog Warden

BY JC REINDL
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A motion to fire Lucas County Dog Warden Tom Skeldon was voted down 2-1 late Tuesday morning by the county commissioners.

Commissioner Ben Konop, who proposed the dismissal earlier in an executive session, said he was disappointed that his colleagues chose to keep Mr. Skeldon while dogs continue to die in the county pound at an unacceptably high rate.

"The community has spoken in large margin for his removal, I've listened to the people, I've studied the issue, studied the data," Mr. Konop said after the vote.

Voting to support the dog warden were commissioners Pete Gerken and Tina Skeldon Wozniak, who is Mr. Skeldon's first cousin.

Mr. Konop said he was forced to drop his backup proposal, a plan to reorganize the warden's office and demote Mr. Skeldon, because neither Mr. Gerken nor Ms. Wozniak showed any support. Ms. Skeldon also refused Mr. Konop's request that she abstain from those discussions involving her cousin, although she is not required to recuse herself.

"I feel I've done my duty on this issue. I'll continue to work hard to ensure that more dogs are adopted," Mr. Konop said.

Article appeared in earlier versions of The Blade and toledoblade.com.

Lucas County Commissioner wants dog warden to be fired or demoted

Lucas County Commissioner Ben Konop intends to urge fellow commissioners today to dismiss Dog Warden Tom Skeldon or initiate a major reorganization at the county dog pound to demote the warden and relieve him of dog adoption responsibilities.

"If you're killing innocent dogs, I think that inherently is cause for termination," Mr. Konop said Monday.

He said he plans to argue for the warden's dismissal or the reorganization during a human resources executive session after this morning's commission meeting.

In addition to what he deems the warden's unacceptably high kill rate for dogs, Mr. Konop criticized Mr. Skeldon for failing to implement any of the five suggestions for improving dog warden services that were made in 2007 when commissioners agreed to a $5 increase in the dog licensing fee.

At $25, Lucas County's fee is believed to be the highest in Ohio.

"I think there's a pretty compelling case that there needs to be a change of direction in the dog warden's office," Commissioner Konop said.

Mr. Skeldon, dog warden since 1987, has faced mounting pressure in recent weeks from dog advocacy groups and a county-appointed oversight committee, whose chairman recently criticized the warden for euthanizing too many dogs and adopting out too few.

An assistant at the warden's office said late yesterday that Mr. Skeldon had left for the day and was unavailable for comment.

Mr. Skeldon has previously said that his office is doing its best to increase adoptions while fulfilling its mission of law enforcement and protecting the public from vicious dogs. He told The Blade last week that he does not plan to retire until "sometime in 2011."

"They can come at me hot and heavy, but I'm not going to stop doing my job," he vowed.

The warden's office euthanized 2,483 dogs last year and more than 1,800 so far this year, killing either 77 percent or 66 percent of all dogs that entered the pound in 2008, depending on how the number of animals reclaimed by their owners are counted.

Pete Gerken, president of the board of county commissioners, declined last night to take a stance on Mr. Konop's proposal, saying he did not want to publicly discuss private human resource matters before they are even presented.

However, Commissioner Gerken reiterated support of his own recent proposal for the Toledo Area Humane Society to review all nonvicious dogs at the county pound and for those deemed adoptable to be transferred to the society's kennel and put up for adoption there.

The humane society, which claims a 100 percent adoption rate for all healthy and adoptable dogs, is to discuss Mr. Gerken's proposal among its board members later this month.

"If we're going to do something different [at the dog warden's office], I want to do it right and not do it in haste," Mr. Gerken said.

Mr. Konop also called on Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak to recuse herself from all future votes involving Mr. Skeldon, who is her first cousin. He doubted whether Ms. Wozniak could maintain impartiality when the matter concerns a relative's job.

"For the integrity of the process I think she should recuse herself," Mr. Konop said.

Ms. Wozniak could not be reached for comment yesterday. She said last week that John Borell, assistant Lucas County prosecutor, advised her that there is no conflict of interest when she votes on items involving Mr. Skeldon.

Mr. Skeldon "was the dog warden for years before I became a county commissioner," said Ms. Wozniak, who entered office in late 2002.

County Administrator Mike Beazley could not say definitively whether the commissioners have the authority to immediately dismiss Mr. Skeldon, or whether Mr. Konop's criticisms amount to cause for dismissal.

Mr. Konop said that if he doesn't get the votes to fire Mr. Skeldon, he will argue for a reorganization that would demote the warden to solely law enforcement duties and cut his salary. The intent, he said, would be "to strip him of his duties of anything to do with adoptions or public outreach."

Money saved from cutting Mr. Skeldon's annual $69,097 salary could go to bringing in someone new to help increase the pound's adoption rate and decrease its kill rate.

Mr. Konop is not the first to call for Mr. Skeldon's job.

Last year, the group

4 Lucas County Pets launched a petition effort for the warden's firing that claimed more than 3,000 signatures and resulted in a public hearing.

Co-founder Tamara Ernst yesterday applauded the commissioner for ratcheting up the pressure.

"Nothing will change while [Mr. Skeldon] is there," she said. "He's given a really really bad name to Lucas County. I have people from other counties asking me, 'Why isn't this guy being fired?'•"

The 2007 suggestions which Mr. Konop said the warden failed to implement included a new community outreach and education program, new options for donating to local spay and neuter efforts, the offering of new microchip services and customized name tags, and the reopening a dog exercise park at the Lucas County Recreation Center.

Contact JC Reindl at:

jreindl@theblade.com

or 419-724-6065.



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