Stanly commissioners discuss allegations against Animal Protective Services

Published 9:55 am Thursday, September 8, 2022

Public concerns about the Stanly County Animal Protective Services (SCAPS) came before county commissioners at Tuesday’s meeting.

Kathryn Russell, a volunteer at the shelter, said in public comments “the SCAPS community would like to see three full-time shelter staff who have notable background and experience, one of them being our current director, given an offer to stay and a raise.”

SCAPS director Jana Aviles recently submitted a letter of resignation to Sherrif Jeff Crisco after working for close to two years at the position. In a recent interview with The Stanly News & Press, she detailed her reasons for leaving, which included problems with staffing.

Russell also asked the sheriff, who is in charge of SCAPS, assign three deputies to the shelter with the understanding who are “committed to the shelter with exceptions for extreme emergencies only.”

Angela Laws, who operates a cat rescue facility in Oakboro called Killer Kitties, submitted written comments which were read aloud by Russell.

In the statement, Laws responded to a Facebook comment made by Commission Chairman Tommy Jordan who suggested taking the  shelter director salary, slightly increasing it and splitting it into two positions which would directly respond to the deputy in charge of SCAPS.

She cited standards of the North Carolina Animal Welfare Act and the state’s Department of Agriculture stating animal caretakers “operate under the supervision of a superior with animal husbandry experience.”

Laws stated her belief that “no one remotely close to (the) commitment of our 95 percent live release rate will even apply” for the reduced amount of money.

She further stated her understanding of the fifth deputy position in SCAPS approved by commissioners would help in the kennels, which she said she had never seen happen, along with her belief other volunteers would agree.

Laws praised Aviles for her “unparalleled performance,” saying the county can not afford to lose her when her resignation takes effect Sept. 16.

Commissioner Peter Asciutto, giving an informational report to the board and public on his findings regarding SCAPS, said he assumed Aviles was in charge of the entire department, when in fact she was only in charge of the shelter.

“So she basically had no control over the deputies that were working in the department,” Ascuitto said.

Asciutto said he offered to allow the sheriff or someone from his office to respond in person at the meeting, and was told the department “didn’t plan on having anybody here to discuss it.”

County Manager Andy Lucas interjected, saying Crisco said he was “not going to discuss personnel matters in open session because it’s not appropriate.”

In the 20 months since the Sheriff’s Office took over animal control, Asciutto said, the percentage of live release had risen from 62.2 percent to 93.9 percent.

Repeating several times that he was not trying to throw the sheriff or the department “under the bus,” Asciutto said Crisco and his chief deputy both received raises of 6.5 percent. The two increases, which Asciutto said were $5,233 and $4,384 for the sheriff and chief deputy, respectively, total $9,617.

At the same time, Asciutto added, the salary for Health Department Director David Jenkins went down 6.5 percent, or $7,032, when the change was made to move animal control under the purview of the Sheriff’s Office.

The hours of the shelter also changed as well. Having been open 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, the shelter is now open noon to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and the fourth Saturday of the month.

Asciutto said he was concerned because the hours were reduced, yet the budget for the Sheriff’s Office increased $153,000 to cover the costs of running SCAPS.

He said he had spoken to volunteers who said deputies were not in the office in the afternoon to help to feed the animals or do the paperwork.

Asciutto said changes have been made to the chain of command to where a sergeant will have a desk and be at the shelter. Deputies at the shelter will answer to that officer. He said it was his understanding deputies at SCAPS “were going to be for animal control and not for doing other things with the Sheriff’s Office.”

Lucas said the budget for SCAPS increased by $150,000 “since the Sheriff’s Office had taken it over.” He said the department let go of one officer and put a sergeant in that position, and let the adoption rescue coordinator position go and created the shelter coordinator position. The board previously approved a salary increase for the new shelter coordinator.

Lucas said salaries increased SCAPS’ overall budget, while funds for new vehicles and cages along with other operational costs have increased the budget as well. He said previously the department had three deputies, a sergeant and the coordinator, but now another APS officer was approved with the recent budget. Lucas said the Sheriff’s Office reallocated a part-time position from the courthouse to APS “because there was an opportunity to do that.”

“In essence, you have five and a half positions (at SCAPS) for over a year now,” Lucas said.

Lucas said he could not speak for when deputies were at the shelter, saying they did work at the shelter when animal control was under the Health Department. He said he can not speak to how things are now with animal control under the Sheriff’s Office.

“That’s the sheriff’s operation. I don’t have autonomy over the sheriff,” Lucas said. “I work with the sheriff in terms of budget…but I don’t have any operational control over the Sheriff’s Office.”

Commissioner Bill Lawhon said the county “funds the sheriff, the animal control as a part of his budget. The sheriff is in charge of the animal control and the deputies. It’s not our job to make management decisions for the sheriff. The sheriff is the highest elected official in this county. The voters put the sheriff in office.

“The sheriff is responsible for the animal shelter,” he added. “The commission is responsible for making sure we fund our departments. We don’t make the management decisions.”

No motions or actions were taken by the board regarding SCAPS.

About Charles Curcio

Charles Curcio has served as the sports editor of the Stanly News & Press for more than 16 years and has written numerous news and feature storeis as well. He was awarded the NCHSAA Tim Stevens Media Representative of the Year and named CNHI Sports Editor of the Year in 2014. He has also won an award from Boone Newspapers, and has won four North Carolina Press Association awards.

email author More by Charles