The Sheriff’s Office will likely take over the county’s Animal Control agency July 1, following a critical assessment of its former director.
A recent investigation into Durham County Animal Control, which historically has reported to the county’s General Services Department, found shoddy record keeping, a lack of standardized training and written orders to staff that sometimes contradicted state law.
The investigation also found a backlog of about 20,000 rabies certificates had not been entered into the system. The financial impact of the backlog was unclear Monday, county officials said..
In November Robert Hensley, an attorney and a member of the nonprofit Coalition to Unchain Dogs board, contacted the county manager’s office about concerns relating to Animal Control’s:
• Errors and discrepancies in records.
• Failure to keep records, such as warning issued to citizens and telephone logs of complaints.
• Irregularities in enforcement.
• Impediments placed by the former Animal Control administration to the enforcement of known violations.
An investigation by Deputy County Manager Marqueta Welton started in early December. On Dec. 20, Cindy Bailey, the then director of Animal Control for more than 10 years, abruptly resigned, saying only that she had concerns about how upper management had handled the situation.
After Bailey’s resignation, the county asked the Sheriff’s Office whether former Animal Control Officer Sgt. Brendan Hartigan could oversee Animal Control. Hartigan and General Services Director Motiryo Keambiroiro were also asked to take a critical look at the agency.
“In doing so, they confirmed most of Mr. Hensley’s complaints as true,” a county report states. Measures to correct the problems have been implemented, the report states.
In addition, County Manager Mike Ruffin recommended to the Board of County Commissioners on Monday that the Sherriff’s Office permanently oversee Animal Control.Digital dispatch
There are many advantages to such a move, Ruffin said.
Moving from a mainly written system of recording calls and complaints to a digital system will let Animal Control officers track issues in real time. “That means tracking and accountability through computer-aided dispatch,” Ruffin said.
Putting the agency under the Sheriff’s Office will also lengthen response hours. Animal Control now accepts calls from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. Calls outside those hours go to the Durham Police Department or the Sheriff’s Office. Under the proposed change, Animal Control officers would take calls for about 17 hours every day, Hartigan said.
Over time and through attrition, Animal Control officers would become deputies.
Commissioner plan to vote on the change, which would take place on July 1, at a future meeting, but elected officials indicated they support the move.
Mainly commissioner applauded the increase in service hours and the number of deputies on the street.
“I think it helps to make our community safer,” Commissioner Vice Chairwoman Ellen Reckhow said. “And when we have major crises, you can get more people responding.”
Hensley said in a written statement that Ruffin’s office appears to have conducted a thorough investigation, and the coalition appreciates the attention paid to this issue. The group is reviewing the county’s response to see if it has addressed all its concerns.
• Approved a lease for a merged Durham-Wake mental health agency to lease 55,000 square feet in a Triangle Transit Authority building in the Imperial Center, near the Page Road exit off Interstate 40. Earlier this year, Durham County commissioners approved a letter of intent for the lease, despite some private landlords’ objection to the nonprofit TTA competing with private entities. Commissioners indicated that the TTA proposal was more cost effective. Under the lease, the merged mental health agency would pay $15.50 per square foot per month for the first year, and an increase in 3 percent each year.
• Discussed funding options to address a water pollution problem affecting about 50 households near downtown Rougemont. A number of old and now mostly non-existent gas stations near downtown Rougemont had underground storage tanks that leaked down into the groundwater and created four separate plumes of groundwater pollution that spread over about 20 acres, according to a county report on the issue. The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources became aware of the problem in 1985 and has taken a number of steps to test, monitor, and solve the immediate problem of safe drinking water for the residents, the report states. The water quality challenge also inhibits future residential and commercial development. “All parties are in agreement that the best available and permanent solution would be a roughly 3.25 mile extension of a City of Roxboro water line southwards across the county line to downtown Rougemont,” the report states. That extension is estimated to cost $2.7 million, according to the report. State and federal environmental officials have committed $500,000 in federal stimulus money to the project, but the offer will be retracted in late July if funding for the entire project isn’t secured by that time. Currently county officials are exploring a number of grants and other funding options that could cover all but about $1 million for the project. Essentially commissioners asked County Manager Mike Ruffin and Assistant County Manager Drew Cummings to identify known sources of funding for the project, and return next month with a potential plan to move forward.