Those involved in the selection of a recent college graduate to become the new director of the Saratoga County Animal Shelter on Tuesday defended their recommendation.
Christina M. Abele of Halfmoon is 22, and her father’s development company has donated thousands of dollars over the past decade to local Republican coffers — but supervisors who selected her over 61 other candidates said that didn’t get her the job.
Political connections “may get you in the door, but it still comes down to being the best candidate,” said county Personnel Committee Chairman Arthur Johnson, R-Wilton, who was part of the selection process.
A list of political contributions is available on the Around Saratoga blog.
The Personnel Committee last week recommended Abele for the $62,413-a-year job running the Milton shelter, which has five full-time and seven part-time employees, as well as dozens of volunteers. It takes in stray, abandoned and surrendered dogs and cats, and has an active program to find new homes for them.
Abele is proposed to replace Dan Butler, who retired last week after 35 years with the county, much of it as the shelter director. Butler, too, was 22 when he was first appointed.
Abele’s appointment will be considered by the county board’s Law and Finance Committee this afternoon in Ballston Spa, and be voted on by the full Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.
The Personnel Committee recommendation has generated dozens of calls and emails to supervisors from shelter volunteers and others who believe Abele is too inexperienced, or is getting the job through her family’s Republican connections.
“I’ve had a lot of people come in and voice their objections. Their objections seem to stem around lack of supervisory experience,” said Supervisor Patti Southworth, I-Ballston.
Southworth said she has not yet met Abele, or seen her resume, but what she’s heard raises concerns, and she may oppose the appointment.
Abele was selected from among 62 applicants for shelter director, 10 of whom were interviewed by a selection committee. The candidates included three current animal shelter employees, who were interviewed before the process was opened to other candidates.
“I have concerns if we had three people apply [internally] and we felt none of them was ready,” Southworth said.
Abele graduated from Siena College in December with a business degree. She has been a volunteer at the Saratoga County Animal Shelter for five years and also organized annual pet adoption clinics on her own in Halfmoon for the past five years. She has worked in the past year as a banquet waitress and had business internships in college.
Her father, Chris, is a partner in Abele Builders of Halfmoon, a major developer in town. He or his company has donated $12,750 to Halfmoon Republican candidates or organizations since 2005, including $5,250 in the past three years.
Halfmoon town Supervisor Mindy Wormuth, as chairman of the board’s Public Safety Committee, was on the interview committee. Her campaign treasury received $1,500 from Abele Builders in 2007-08 and $1,000 from Abele Limited Partnership in 2011, according to political donation filings. There are no more recent donations, Wormuth said.
“I speak to her father on a regular basis about projects in town, but I have not spoken to him about this job or about Christina,” Wormuth said. “It never weighed on my mind.”
She called Abele the most impressive of the 10 candidates the supervisors interviewed.
“She had good personal presence, a dynamic personality,” Wormuth said. “She had some things she thought we could do at little cost to the county to promote the shelter.”
The candidates were interviewed by a search committee that included Wormuth, county board Chairman Alan Grattidge, Law and Finance Committee Chairman Paul Sausville, Johnson, County Administrator Spencer Hellwig and county Personnel Director Jack Kalinkewicz. Members of the committee said Abele came to her interview better-prepared than others, having reviewed the shelter’s $831,000 annual budget and come up with an “action plan” for reducing costs.
“Christina came in very self-confident, she presented herself very well, she brought an action plan. She had taken the time to study our budget,” Grattidge said Tuesday. “Christina is really the person we saw taking the shelter into the future.”
Edinburg town Supervisor Jean Raymond wasn’t part of the selection process and has yet to meet Abele or see her resume, but she said the county followed an established department head selection process that has worked well in the past.
“They did everything correctly, and every vote was unanimous,” she said.
Some of the criticism has focused on the director’s $62,413 starting salary.
Grattidge said that’s the base salary for the position, determined by a grade assigned to it by the county Personnel Department. The salary would be the same for anyone coming new into the position, Grattidge said. Butler’s salary, by contrast, would be $77,232 for 2013.
Shelter director is an appointment of the Board of Supervisors not subject to civil service provisions. That means there is no test for the position, and also that a director can be removed at any time the Board of Supervisors chooses.