Saratoga County

Saratoga County board weighs options for hiring animal shelter director

Saratoga County leaders are still mulling how to select a director for the county animal shelter fol

Saratoga County leaders are still mulling how to select a director for the county animal shelter following Tuesday’s rejection by the Board of Supervisors of Christina Abele, the candidate chosen in the last selection process.

There’s no acting director now, but it’s likely that in the short term one will be named while the board decides what to do, said board Chairman Alan R. Grattidge, R-Charlton.

A divided board on Tuesday rejected the appointment of Abele, a 22-year-old recent graduate of Siena College whose selection by the county Personnel Committee led to a wave of criticism from animal shelter volunteers and supporters who said she lacked enough experience for the job.

“We’re digesting what we heard,” Grattidge said.

Abele, who has volunteered at the shelter and organized pet adoption clinics in her hometown of Halfmoon, had her qualifications criticized by many speakers during a two-hour public comment period before the vote. Abele would have replaced Dan Butler, who retired earlier this month after 36 years with the county, most of them as the shelter director.

The board’s rejection of Abele, the candidate recommended by a search committee that interviewed 10 applicants, was unprecedented. The Republican-dominated board normally follows committee recommendations, but supervisors in the last week were inundated with email and phone calls from people opposing the appointment.

“I’m disappointed that Christina Abele was treated so poorly. There was a lot of misinformation out there,” said Grattidge, who was a member of the selection committee. “I think she would have made a great director for the animal shelter.”

Grattidge said the supervisors need to decide whether to go back to the 61 other applications they received for the position, or start a new search.

“Nothing has been decided at this point. We’re weighing our options,” he said.

The shelter, with 13 employees, provides a temporary home for unwanted dogs and cats, and attempts to find them new homes. Some speakers at Tuesday’s meeting pointed out the shelter director has to deal with sick and vicious animals that must be killed to protect other animals and the public, as well as those that can be put up for adoption.

“It’s a very hard job,” said Cathy Clothier, executive director of the SPCA of Upstate New York in Queensbury.

She and others suggested updating the job description used by the personnel department, which hasn’t changed since 1979.

The job is different now than it was then, they said, especially since the new $5.3 million animal shelter opened in 2010, with a surgery room and other specialized facilities.

“We feel we need to have an experienced person to keep this state-of-the-art shelter we’re all so proud of in tip-top condition,” said Wanda Allen of Saratoga Springs, a member of the Saratoga Kennel Club.

Grattidge, however, said supervisors have been told changing the job description could have implications for the job’s civil service status, and possibly make it subject to the civil service system.

The job is currently exempt from the competitive civil service system, like the jobs of most department heads. That means the supervisors have significant freedom in selecting candidates, as well as removing someone they are unhappy with. Bringing it under the civil service system could force supervisors to hire from a list of people who have passed a test.

The shelter director’s job has a base salary of $62,413 per year.

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