VERNON — With or without support from North Vernon, it appears a new Jennings County Animal Control Board will be installed on Jan. 1.
“In the past, it was always the commissioners who have appointed the members, and I think it’s going back to that again,” Jennings County Commissioner Jeff Day said.
The commissioners voted 2-1 Monday to replace the seven city and county appointments now sitting on the current board with a new one made up of three elected officials.
“The North Vernon City Council can either be a part of it or not a part of it,” commissioner Jeff Barger said.
When news of the commissioners’ action reached the City Council that night, most members said they were not surprised.
“It’s the commissioners’ call, but we will decide whether or not we want to participate,” City Council President Dave Shaw said.
“They’ve set up this new board for elected officials that is supposed to include one city council member. So if we don’t participate, they’ll have to come up with some other type of board.”
The Animal Control Board issue was not on the commissioners’ agenda and came at the end of last Monday’s meeting. The only member to vote against the proposal was Matt Sporleder.
“I don’t like to give the city an ultimatum,” Sporleder said. “It just makes sense to wait until January. What if we get two new commissioners who like the current board the way it is?”
“Or we might get two new commissioners who will thank us,” Day replied.
Barger told Day and Sporleder about a proposal from North Vernon Mayor Harold “Soup” Campbell.
The mayor suggested to Barger during the Sept. 10 council meeting that the new board should consist of five members that would appointed from both the city and county councils.
“I think this issue is too much of a hot item to make a five-member board,” Barger said to his fellow commissioners Monday.
Campbell said the commissioners’ action will force the City Council to make some tough decisions.
“I think the commissioners know what funding both the city and the county have, so financially, it might make sense,” Campbell said. “But to operate effectively, each group will have to make a decision on whether that’s the best way to do it.”
Shaw estimated that the city had set aside $18,000 in its preliminary 2013 budget for animal control. But he said that amount might be dropped before the budget comes up for final adoption.
Sporleder expressed concern that if the new Animal Control Board were made up entirely of elected officials, there likely would be times when the group wouldn’t have a quorum present to take necessary action.
“That’s why you have to have three people who are committed to it,” Barger said. “This whole thing has been blown up because the current board wanted to fire a dog catcher, and we didn’t want to.”
Barger was referring to Senior Animal Control Officer James Brewner, whom many current board members say has not been accountable to them in his job performance.
During the commissioners’ meeting, and earlier before the North Vernon City Council, Barger said that most of the current board members are also members of the two Mercy Rescue groups operating in Jennings County.
In an email to the Republic, Mercy Rescue and Adoption of Jennings County President Sharon Armstrong disputed Barger’s claims.
“There is only one board member who is also a member of Mercy Rescue and Adoption of Jennings County, and according to the current ordinance, one member is to be from an animal welfare group,” Armstrong wrote.
“We do not influence that board. We support them and believe in what they are trying to accomplish. If that board would be allowed to set the policies and procedures at the animal control facility, it would be better for the county and better for the animals housed there.”
Current board president Nancy Green-Cruser said her group’s main goal is to move the department into adopting policies already established in several cities located in counties adjacent to Jennings.