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Published: Wednesday, 9/1/2010

Plan to dismiss dog warden panel tabled

BY TOM TROY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER
Dog Warden Julie Lyle, at a May news conference with John Dinon, head of the Toledo Humane Society and an advisory member of the dog committee, said she has no problems with the panel. Dog Warden Julie Lyle, at a May news conference with John Dinon, head of the Toledo Humane Society and an advisory member of the dog committee, said she has no problems with the panel.
JETTA FRASER Enlarge

With dogs still being killed in the Lucas County Dog Warden's Office, the Lucas County board of commissioners is considering a resolution to disband the Dog Warden Advisory Committee that helped overhaul the county's dog practices.

The board of commissioners voted 2-1 Tuesday to table a resolution to abolish the advisory committee, but they plan to bring it up for a vote when the board meets again in two weeks.

Commissioner Ben Konop cast the no vote, saying he wanted the opportunity to vote down the resolution that he said was flawed and was brought about through pressure from Board of Commissioners President Pete Gerken. Mr. Gerken and fellow Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak supported tabling the motion.

"If you've got a talented group of citizens that is devoting its time free of charge to improve a department, why would you want to turn that down?" Mr. Konop asked.

He said the dog warden's office would benefit from ongoing citizen review and that several members of the committee have told him they feel the same way.

He said Mr. Gerken met with several members of the advisory committee and told them he wanted it to wrap up its work - a story that Mr. Gerken did not dispute.

Mr. Konop labeled Mr. Gerken's effort to shut down the committee as "strong-man, dictatorial fashion."

Mr. Gerken said he did not bully anyone.

"The dog warden advisory committee has a lot of responsibility for this and their work is not complete," Mr. Konop said. "This is a move backward, a move trying to return to the failed policies of the past."

Mr. Gerken chided Mr. Konop for characterizing his behavior at a meeting Mr. Konop didn't attend.

"In the professional business you are in that would be called hearsay," Mr. Gerken told Mr. Konop, who is a lawyer. "I was there. You weren't. The record shows they voted unanimously [to disband]. … So if there was some dissension after that meeting somebody fomented that."

Mr. Konop said multiple committee members told him that "there was direct pressure by you, Commissioner Gerken, put on the committee to disband, at several points."

Minutes from the dog warden advisory committee show that it voted Aug. 18 to conclude its work after Jan. 31, 2011, when Dog Warden Julie Lyle is expected to have completed work on a standard operating procedures manual.

Mr. Gerken said the committee, like other task forces appointed in a crisis, was to meet for a year on a quarterly basis. He said it already has met for longer than that and has met monthly rather than quarterly.

Mr. Gerken said Ms. Lyle is the only department director who has a citizen advisory committee.

"In the last year and a half there's been a huge change in the dog warden's office that we all appreciate. Julie's come in and done what Commissioner Konop and others asked for. ... I think it's probably an additional burden to her to have an oversight committee potentially micromanaging her ability to lead us in a new direction," Mr. Gerken said.

The advisory committee's minutes showed nine members present and four absent. The vote was reported as unanimous. Mr. Konop said he was told there were two abstentions.

The commissioners' resolution calls for the committee to be "rescinded," a polite way of saying abolished, and for the former committee members to receive annual reports from the dog warden for the next three years.

According to the minutes of the advisory committee, they believed they were changing to an annual review basis, implying at least an annual meeting.

"That, I think, is a little different from what we voted on as a committee," said John Dinon, executive director of the Toledo Area Humane Society. He is an advisory committee member.

Mr. Dinon said the oversight committee was never envisioned to be permanent, and that the meeting schedule was too intensive to continue indefinitely. But he said if an oversight body is created to have a permanent role, he would like to be involved.

Ms. Lyle said Tuesday that she doesn't have problems with the advisory committee.

"I've not been fighting to disband the committee. I'd just like to be treated like any other department head in the county," she said.

Whether the commissioners should put up the resources necessary to keep alive dogs that are deemed adoptable until they can be adopted is another question that has begun to surface.

The number of dogs being killed because the kennel can't handle them was not available Tuesday. However, the "Dog Log" published in Tuesday's Blade shows that four "pit bulls" were put down because of capacity.

Ms. Lyle, who arrived in April from Michigan's Upper Peninsula, said there are currently 113 dogs in her care at the county pound.

"We are at capacity at this point, but we've been scrambling to not euthanize dogs that are adoptable," Ms. Lyle said. "The dogs that are euthanized for space reasons alone are only 'pit bulls,' to my knowledge, at this point since I've been here."

In an interview with The Blade, Democratic County Commissioner candidate Carol Contrada said, "if you are euthanizing based on capacity, then I think it's incumbent on the commissioners to find a way to expand capacity within your budget."

Ms. Contrada said she'd like to have advisory committee Chairman Steve Serchuk and Ms. Lyle testify on whether the advisory committee should be kept in existence.

"If the dog warden doesn't recommend it and the committee doesn't recommend it then I see no reason to keep it there unless there is another reason I don't know about," Ms. Contrada said.

Republican candidate George Sarantou said it would be an appropriate issue to have the advisory committee study.

"I was not aware that there's a limit on how many dogs they can handle. Let's see what other counties are doing," Mr. Sarantou said. "I don't think we should abolish this committee. These are experts that have been volunteering. We ought to seek their input."

The two are running on the Nov. 2 ballot to replace Mr. Konop, a Democrat, who did not seek re-election.

The Dog Warden Advisory Committee was created in the midst of intense controversy over former Dog Warden Tom Skeldon's management of the office.

Animal advocates complained that too many dogs were being euthanized and that Mr. Skeldon was rigidly refusing to consider adopting out "pit bull-type" dogs.

Since Ms. Lyle's takeover of the dog warden's office, the rate of live dogs to killed dogs has improved from 31 percent in April to August, 2009, to 56 percent in the same five-month period in 2010 when Ms. Lyle has been on the job, Mr. Konop said.

The advisory group was created in December, 2008, at Mr. Konop's suggestion, although he voted against the resolution that created the panel, as Ms. Wozniak reminded him Tuesday.

Mr. Konop said he wanted animal welfare organizations to be able to name their own representatives but that Mr. Gerken decided to have the committee appointed by the commissioners from a pool of candidates suggested by the organizations.

Contact Tom Troy at:

tomtroy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6058.



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