Meridian Star

February 2, 2014

Animal control still understaffed

By Terri Ferguson Smith / tsmith@themeridianstar.com
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN — While county officials wait for the city to live up to its agreement to staff its share of animal control officers, questions have arisen about the process through which they are to be hired.

    The county's animal control agreement with the city of Meridian calls for three officers from each entity. County officials are ready to approve the hiring of a third officer, but some are wondering when the city will have its staffing up to three.

    Currently the city has one officer; the county has two but is hiring one more. At a Lauderdale County Board of Supervisors work session on Thursday, the subject again came up of the city's commitment.

    "Our people that work for Lauderdale County down there are not happy that they are having to do ... part of two jobs. I think that we, as a board, certainly need to push the city to let's move forward and get this thing posted and get somebody there," said Wayman Newell, District 2 supervisor, said. "I think they need to step up or we need to move on."  

    An agreement signed in 2001 between the city and the county specifies the number of officers to staff animal control. The city owns the shelter but the county maintains it.

    District 3 Supervisor Josh Todd, board president, said although splitting from the city in animal control is an option, he believes it's not something that will done anytime soon.

    "I think the city has been shorthanded for at least a year so if it continues within the next four or five months, we'll have to look at other options," Todd said.

    Ryan Couch is head of the county's animal control.

    "He's done a great job. He keeps everything down to a minimum but when he comes to you saying he needs help — he needs help," Todd said.

    Asked about the situation on Thursday, Mayor Percy Bland said the city is trying to fill its openings for animal control officers.

    "We wanted to use a temporary person to fill that slot while we went through the process of the full Civil Service procedure," Bland said. "The Civil Service Commission did not allow us to put a temporary person in that position."

    Ward 3 Councilwoman Barbara Henson and Police Chief James Lee both requested that a temporary person be hired, but the request was denied, said Bland.

    "The community has needs that must be met and Civil Service did not allow us to do that. We are going through that full process," Bland said. "It may take 60 days before someone is hired in that position."

    John Watts, chairman of the Civil Service Commission, said Civil Service had a list of eight eligible candidates for animal control, all of whom had been tested and were found to be qualified, but MPD wanted to hire a temporary employee instead. Watts said the list was due to expire at the end of December but the city asked them to extend the list so they agreed to do so.

    "They could have hired from that list," Watts said. "They asked us to extend that list so they could hire. They withdrew their request to extend that list and said they would submit a request for testing."

    They did not  submit a request for testing until the Friday before the last council meeting, Watts said.

    "They had somebody they wanted to hire. It was obvious they were going around the civil service requirements," Watts said. "It had the appearance of pre-selecting."

    Asked about that, Lee said it wasn't a matter of pre-selecting. Lee said they had a candidate selected to temporarily fill the position, a person that Assistant Chief Buck Roberts knew to be experienced and could do the work from day one. Roberts said the person knew that he would still have to go through the Civil Service testing and there was no guarantee that he would be given the job permanently.

    However, Civil Service denied the request for a temporary employee, he said.

    Lee said he did see the list of eight candidates but it was a year old by the time he saw it and it was set to expire on Dec. 10. Roberts asked Civil Service for an extension, which they granted, but he then withdrew the extension request because Lee wanted to generate a new list.

    "We withdrew it because this list was generated on 12-11-12," Lee said.

    Lee said he did not know if people on the list were still looking for a job a year later.

    "My decision was to go ahead and get a new test out here," Lee said.

    Lee said he is as anxious as anyone else to get the job filled.

    "We would hire somebody today if it was possible, but it's not possible," Lee said. "We're caught between a rock and a hard place."

    The next step for Civil Service, according to Watts, is to advertise for the positions, schedule testing, and establish a new list of eligible candidates.