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Vote on Saratoga County animal shelter director set for today

Vote on Saratoga County animal shelter director set for today

Controversy continues over the appointment of a new director for the Saratoga County Animal Shelter,

Controversy continues over the appointment of a new director for the Saratoga County Animal Shelter, as the Board of Supervisors prepares to vote on her confirmation today in Ballston Spa.

More than two dozen people have signed up to speak to the Board of Supervisors at its monthly meeting, most of them on the proposed appointment of Christine Abele, whom critics are calling inexperienced and unqualified.

The choice of Abele, a 22-year-old recent college graduate whose parents have donated thousands of dollars to local Republicans, has proved to be the most controversial county personnel appointment in many years.

Normally, new county department heads are approved unanimously and without controversy by the Republican-dominated board, once recommended by a search committee. But in this case, insiders are predicting active debate by the full board and a close vote.

If approved, Abele would replace Dan Butler and be paid $62,413 a year to run the county shelter for unwanted dogs and cats in Milton. Butler retired earlier this month.

Abele, who graduated from Siena College in December with a business degree, was selected by an all-Republican search committee of supervisors and administrators from among 62 applicants, 10 of whom were interviewed by the committee.

Soon after it was announced two weeks ago, the appointment was criticized by shelter volunteers, including members of the Friends of the Saratoga County Animal Shelter. They say Abele is too inexperienced to run a facility with an $830,000 annual budget and 13 employees.

Carol Lang of Ballston Spa, who has organized the annual Busy Bones 500 fundraiser for the shelter since 2007, has threatened to stop fundraising if the board makes the appointment. She is among those signed up to speak today.

Three shelter employees who applied for the job were interviewed but were not chosen.

County board Chairman Alan Grattidge, R-Charlton, said the opposition to Abele is being encouraged by candidates who didn’t get the job, and the board is making the right choice with Abele.

“We chose who we thought would do the best job of taking the county shelter into the future,” Grattidge said Monday. “Our candidate gave the best overall presentation, presenting the budget and having an action plan for taking the shelter forward.”

He said it would be unreasonable to exclude Abele from consideration because of her family’s political donations, and that there have been other county department heads — including Butler — named while still in their early 20s.

Abele’s father, Chris, is a partner in Abele Builders of Halfmoon, which has donated more than $12,000 to Halfmoon Republican campaign coffers since 2005.

Abele has done volunteer work with animals for several years. She has been a volunteer at the county animal shelter and the private Estherville shelter in Greenfield, and has also organized community pet adoption clinics in Halfmoon.

To date, her appointment has been recommended by the search committee and the county board’s Personnel Committee, and it was approved unanimously last week by the board’s Law and Finance Committee, despite the growing controversy.

But one committee member, Supervisor Matthew Veitch, R-Saratoga Springs, said he voted in favor of Abele in committee only to get the matter moved to the full board, but may not vote that way today.

“There has been much controversy surrounding the animal shelter appointment and I want to make sure that the public understands that this is not my final vote on this matter and not indicative on how things might go on Tuesday,” Veitch said after the Law and Finance vote.

Today’s board meeting starts at 4 p.m. in the county boardroom in Ballston Spa.

As of Monday afternoon, there were 27 people signed up to speak — far more than at a typical board meeting. Each speaker will have up to five minutes to address the board. After that, the board members will debate the appointment, and then vote.

Under board rules, public speakers had to sign up by 4 p.m. Monday to address the board at today’s meeting.

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