Bibb committee interviews animal welfare director candidates

A Bibb County citizens committee met Monday in closed session with three candidates vying to be the new animal welfare director.

The 11-person committee did not reveal the names of the three candidates who want to run a shelter that has been steeped in controversy for months.

Before the shelter was taken over by the county from the city of Macon on July 1, former Director Jim Johnson was removed from day-to-day operations amid reports of filthy conditions at the shelter.

In June, the county signed Deborah Biggs to a 60-day contract to run the shelter and assess the facility while a new director is being sought. Meanwhile, interim Director Van VanDeWalker resigned after he said his family members were banned from volunteering at the shelter and because he disagreed with Biggs on euthanasia policies.

Biggs’ contract ends Tuesday, and Bibb County’s Chief Administrative Officer Steve Layson will serve as interim director until a new hire is made.

Layson said four candidates originally were scheduled to be interviewed Monday, but one withdrew from the process. The committee will recommend one or two of the candidates to Bibb County Commission Chairman Sam Hart once their background checks are complete.

Applications for the position haven’t closed, and Layson said he received an e-mail Monday from VanDeWalker, asking to be considered for the permanent position.

Layson said if none of the three candidates interviewed Monday got enough support for the job, other candidates would be considered.

The county must release the names of the finalists at least 14 days before commissioners vote on a director, Layson said.

Biggs is supposed to present commissioners a report with an evaluation of the current shelter and policies, and make recommendations for improvements. Layson said he isn’t certain when that report will be done.

Layson acknowledged some disorganization at the shelter since the county took over operations there. Monday, an order was issued to euthanize a pregnant dog just before one of the shelter workers learned someone was interested in adopting it. But the kill order was carried out before the potential adopter was contacted, Layson said.

“What there is right now is a lack of management, rules, regulations,” said Layson, who added that the county recently hired four new workers. “It’s going to take a while for us to get our hands around it.”

Layson said pregnant animals are currently reviewed on a case-by-case basis before they are euthanized, but he said Biggs is supposed to make a policy recommendation about pregnant animals when she turns in her report. He did not say what that recommendation might be.

Meanwhile, the citizens committee is no closer to finding a site for the new shelter, which was approved by Bibb County voters last year during a special purpose local option sales tax referendum, said Bibb County Commissioner Lonzy Edwards, who serves as the committee’s chairman.

“The last time we looked at a couple of county-owned sites, but they weren’t acceptable,” Edwards said. “We’re now expanding our search and maybe look at sites owned by the city.”

Edwards said Bibb County Engineer Ken Sheets, a committee member, mentioned a few other sites that might be privately owned.

“There were some very good concerns raised (during Monday’s meeting),” Edwards said.

Edwards said two of the most important criteria for the new site are accessibility and visibility.

In other committee business, Layson told members that requests for proposals from prospective architects for the new building had been turned in to the county.

Also, committee members are looking for a date to visit animal shelters in Rockdale, Walton and Gwinnett counties. They also might visit the new animal shelter in Savannah. The committee may wait to make those visits until after an architect is selected.

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.