Bibb commissioners expected to pick new Animal Welfare director

Bibb County commissioners are expected to name a new Animal Welfare director Tuesday, barring any last-minute decision to abandon the two finalists and restart the selection process.

Chief Administrative Office Steve Layson wouldn’t say which of the finalists -- Sarah Tenon, director of Mobile County Animal Control in Alabama, or Richard Rice, former Atlanta Humane Society executive vice president -- is the choice of a citizens’ committee tasked with searching for a new full-time director.

Bibb County Chairman Sam Hart’s recommendation for the hire is expected to be announced at the 4 p.m. meeting for final approval by commissioners.

“It will be a huge relief,” said Layson, who has been serving as interim Animal Welfare Department director since July 1 when the county took over shelter operations from the city. “It’s a load off my shoulders. It will be good to have someone who really knows what they are doing.”

Rice and Tenon both have years of experience working with animal shelters.

Sarah Tenon

Tenon has worked in her current job since last year, her second stint with the Mobile County Animal Control. She previously worked as a supervisor for Hawkinsville’s shelter and was a director at Santa Rosa County Animal Services in Milton, Fla., and a kennel supervisor for Escambia County Animal Regulations and Control in Pensacola, Fla.

Tenon also previously worked for Macon Animal Control in 2008, when her name was Sarah Anderson, but she didn’t list that job on her résumé. Her résumé also included some incorrectly listed dates of employment. Layson said Monday he hasn’t spoken with her about the omission.

“We haven’t had a conversation about it,” he said. “It’s something we haven’t delved deep into.”

Tenon declined to be interviewed by The Telegraph, saying she wanted to wait until after the commission makes a hiring decision.

According to officials with Macon’s Human Resources Department, Tenon worked as an animal control officer here for eight months in 2008. She didn’t receive any negative reports or disciplinary action, according to the records, and resigned voluntarily to take the position in Hawkinsville.

Tenon’s colleagues in Alabama praised her work ethic and commitment to animal welfare.

“She’s exceptional,” said John Pafenbach, the Mobile County administrator. “I hate to see her leave. She’s been a wonderful employee. She has started some innovative programs with us, such as a spay and neuter program. She’s reached out to the community and worked with different groups in the county. She’s done a food program for the animals and gotten vets to work with the shelter. She’s been a real inspirational leader for the other employees.”

According to a the Fox television affiliate in Mobile, the Mobile County Animal Shelter banned the county’s largest animal rescue group, SouthBARK, from working with the shelter.

Pafenbach said it was his decision to recommend to commissioners to ban SouthBARK from the shelter after members of the group caused interference with the shelter’s operations and posted lies and exaggerations on Facebook. He said Tenon kept him abreast of the day-to-day situation, but she ultimately left the decision to Pafenbach.

According to the Fox report, one of the SouthBARK volunteers said the county was opposed to the language used on the group’s Facebook page, which listed animals that were about to be euthanized. A county employee also said in the report that SouthBARK’s advertising for the animals was causing the shelter’s staff to be overrun with phone calls.

Pafenbach said at first the county put a six-month ban on SouthBARK going to the shelter, but he made the ban permanent after the same problems kept recurring after the initial ban had ended.

Pafenbach said Tenon has maintained strong relationships with the other seven or eight rescue groups in the county, including extending the shelter’s hours and letting those groups in early before the shelter opens.

Richard Rice

Rice, who spoke with The Telegraph last week, has been involved with animal welfare for 16 years. Prior to working at the Atlanta Humane Society, he was a state and regional director for the National Humane Society. He also has worked as the director of Animal Care for Brevard County in Melbourne, Fla., and was the director of Animal Welfare in Lowndes County. Rice originally worked in the private sector in Miami as an insurance fraud investigator.

Rice worked with the Atlanta Humane Society for five years, helping to get a new shelter built in Alpharetta. He developed H.E.A.R.T. (Humane Emergency Animal Rescue Team) to train staff and get equipment to help with rescuing animals from puppy mills, dog fighting, disasters and other emergency situations.

Rice resigned over the summer from his position after an Atlanta-area Fox affiliate news report that included allegations that Rice didn’t file proper paperwork with the state’s Department of Agriculture for two years.

Rice said he is limited in what he can discuss about the case because of an agreement he signed.

“I did nothing wrong,” he said last week in a phone interview. “Unfortunately, that didn’t get reported. I accomplished most of the things I set out to do. We saved hundreds of animals and set records for adoptions. I resigned to seek out new challenges. I’d rather focus on positives. The allegations (for the story) were by three disgruntled ex-employees.”

Many members of the local animal rescue organizations are disappointed that former Animal Control officer Van VanDeWalker, who had served previously as an interim director, didn’t get consideration for the opening. VanDeWalker originally applied for the job, but then pulled his name from consideration in July when he resigned, chiefly because of the large number of animals being euthanized at the shelter. VanDeWalker eventually re-applied for the position, but by then the county-appointed citizens committee already was conducting its interviews with the finalists.

Patti Jones, chairwoman of animal advocacy group Central Georgia CARES, said she doesn’t know much about Tenon and only knows Rice from when she toured the Atlanta Humane Society’s new Alpharetta facility. But she and other residents wanted VanDeWalker to be considered for the job.

“We want the best person selected, the best person who has that skill set,” she said. “We’re all very disappointed. We support Van because he brings a whole set of talents and has the community behind him. I’m curious as to why he wasn’t interviewed. When you’re looking for the best candidate, he’s familiar with the operations, the culture, the vision of where animal control needs to go.”

Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report.