After months of debate of who should be the permanent director of Bibb County’s fledgling Animal Welfare Department, county commissioners decided Tuesday to select an Alabama woman with Middle Georgia ties.
In a 4-1 vote Tuesday afternoon, commissioners chose Sarah Tenon to run the department. Commissioner Joe Allen cast the lone dissenting vote.
Tenon, 48, the current director of Mobile County Animal Control in Mobile, Ala., is a native of Hawkinsville, where she previously was animal control supervisor. Tenon will begin her new job Oct. 1.
“I’m excited,” Tenon said after the meeting. “It’s definitely been a difficult process. It’s been very, very public. ... I’m relieved. I don’t take it lightly or for granted.”
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Of the 32 candidates who applied for the position, just two were ever named publicly. Tenon and Richard Rice, the former executive vice president of the Atlanta Humane Society, were the two finalists selected by a county-appointed citizens committee formed to advise commissioners on animal shelter issues.
County Commission Chairman Sam Hart recommended Tenon to commissioners Tuesday.
“Everything (about Tenon) has come back as acceptable and favorable,” Hart told commissioners before the vote. “She has a proven track record on animal welfare.”
Bibb’s Animal Welfare Department has been without a full-time director since July 1, when Bibb County took over operation of the near dilapidated shelter on 11th Street from Macon. Bibb County Chief Administrative Officer Steve Layson has run the shelter on an interim basis, and the county contracted with Deborah Biggs on a 60-day agreement to manage the shelter on a daily basis and come up with a plan to manage it.
Allen said his vote against Tenon had nothing to do with her personally. Instead, Allen said other commissioners left him out of the loop during the search process. Allen said he didn’t see Tenon’s résumé and application until moments before Tuesday’s vote.
“It’s not right that they want me to vote for somebody I didn’t know anything about,” he said. “She might be fine, but I couldn’t get that information from the county.”
Allen said he read in The Telegraph and on Facebook that Tenon omitted her work as a Macon Animal Control officer for eight months in 2008. However, Hart told him that Tenon included that information on her Bibb County job application and chose not to include it on her résumé because she wanted to highlight the jobs in which she held leadership positions.
According to her employment application, Tenon left the Macon job and a previous stint with Mobile County to care for her ill mother.
Some of Tenon’s former colleagues praised her contributions to their organizations.
“She did a great job with us,” said Hawkinsville EMA Director Leslie Sewell, who worked closely with Tenon.
Mobile County Administrator John Pafenbach said Tenon has instituted many strong programs at that shelter and has a natural leadership ability.
“Sarah has done an outstanding job in promoting adoption events,” he said. “She’s worked with rescue groups and let them come in early to pull dogs out of the shelter.”
Macon veterinarian Jeff Davis, who serves on the Bibb citizens committee, said Tenon blew away the committee during her interview.
“She certainly more than impressed us with her presentation,” Davis said. “Her résumé was awesome.”
Many local animal rescue supporters had been vocal about their support for former Macon Animal Control officer Van VanDeWalker, who applied for the position but later withdrew his name from consideration after he resigned from the shelter because differences with Biggs.
By the time VanDeWalker resubmitted his name, the citizens committee already had narrowed the list of applicants to three finalists, and ultimately recommended Tenon and Rice.
“Van took his application out of the running,” Allen said, “so he had no reason to expect anything different.”
Tenon said she hopes to work with local rescue groups, saying they are essential in helping to care for the animals in Bibb County.
“Most definitely,” she said. “I’m going to reach out to the community. I couldn’t do it without the community.”
Commissioner Lonzy Edwards, who is chairman of the citizens committee, said hiring Tenon is a big step in the right direction. He said he hopes now that Tenon has the job, the rescue community will work with her.
“It’s one more step in the process to get towards (a good shelter),” Edwards said. “We’re getting skilled, competent leadership in place. ... She’s been there and done that. She’s had the experience of dealing with every issue we’ve ever had here. She has the people skills to work with different groups. ... Hopefully, the community will respect her history of working well with groups, and I think in time, they’ll be able to do that. The community ought to give her the chance to do the job she was hired to do.”
Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report.