County abruptly ends free adoptions at animal shelter

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Fiscal court discusses maintenance at judicial center

By Josh Claywell


Animal advocates brought about a big change at last Thursday’s special-called meeting of the Taylor County Fiscal Court.

Until that evening, the fiscal court was sponsoring free adoptions at the Taylor County Animal Shelter. Several advocates spoke to the court about the dangers of free adoptions, saying the magistrates and Judge-Executive Eddie Rogers — along with officials at the animal shelter — had no way of knowing if the animals were going to safe homes.

Jolene Wuertenberg and a few other animal advocates spoke to the court and asked the magistrates and Rogers to end the free adoptions, which were supposed to start Aug. 23 and run for five weeks.

Wuertenberg said neither the court nor the animal shelter had any way of knowing if the animals would be safe after leaving the shelter.

“My question is why are you deciding to do it without knowing the implications it has on these animals? How are you going to insure they are not put in harm’s way?” she asked the court.

“Like I told you before, we’ve done this before,” Rogers responded. “As far I know, we have had no complaints.”

Wuertenberg and others pleaded with the magistrates to end the free adoptions and, if anything, run a reduced fee process in the future.

Rogers asked what the difference between free adoptions and reduced fee ones would be. Wuertenberg said people adopting dogs and other animals would be more invested in taking care of the animal and likely wouldn’t bring it back to the shelter or get rid of it by other means.

“If it was a reduced adoption, that’s fine,” she said. “Some people can’t afford the adoption fee, but the idea of ‘free’ is not good. At least do a fee of $50 for a dog. At least then they’re investing in the animal.”

District 6 Magistrate Richard Phillips then asked what the purpose was for the free adoption. At the time the initiative was introduced, the shelter was housing several more dogs than usual. The majority were owned by Bobby and Rebecca Phillips, who had 82 counts of animal cruelty brought against them.

Bobby Phillips recently had all charges dropped, while Rebecca Phillips had 76 of the 82 charges dropped. She took a plea on the other six.

“The whole idea of it, if my understanding is correct, is because the shelter was completely full beforehand,” Richard Phillips said. “We’re down to 10 dogs, so I don’t even know why we’re doing this now. I make the motion we not do this and just forget about it. We’re not gonna sit here and argue back and forth; nobody’s gonna get ahead by doing that. My motion is let’s just not do it.”

District 5 Magistrate Derrick Bright seconded the motion.

After some more discussion, a roll-call vote was taken and all five magistrates in attendance voted to suspend the adoptions. District 1 Magistrate James Jones was not at the meeting.

Wuertenberg and the other advocates left the courtroom elated with the court’s decision.

“I feel like they listened to us and we got a good outcome,” she said. “Most importantly, the best outcome is going to be for the animals. I think it’s important when they make a decision to give away dogs for free that they understand all the implications and future impact that would have on the dog. I don’t think they were thinking about that when they did this.

“I think the free adoptions were a bad idea. I think reduced adoptions are OK, but to just give something away for free, you have created a bigger risk. People are not investing into when they don’t have to pay for it.”


In other news

The court voted to install Kenneth Manning, who currently oversees maintenance at the Taylor County Detention Center, to help in the same capacity at the Taylor County Judicial Center.

Manning will split time between both buildings. The judicial center has a mold problem because of humidity issues, and the court voted to end its contract with contractor Ernie Breeding in a special-called meeting on Aug. 21.

That meant the court had to find someone to provide maintenance work on the 10-year-old building.

Manning will work at the judicial center on a temporary basis until the court can get bids to hire a company full time. The county will be reimbursed for Manning’s pay by the Administrative Office of the Courts.

“Since this is an emergency situation, we need to address the issues we have over there and get working on those,” said AOC representative Danny Rhodes. “As far as AOC’s standpoint, we would reimburse the county if you choose to bring on someone in the interim.”

The magistrates then voted to hire Manning on an interim basis with the intention to keep looking for a company to take over in a full-time role.

Bids will be placed and advertised, then the court will take its next step in the process. Currently, Knight’s Mechanical is overseeing the maintenance of the courthouse.

Rogers asked Rhodes if the court could appoint Knight’s to be the stopgap, but Rhodes said he would have to defer to county attorney John Bertram on that issue.

“In an emergency situation, obviously there’s some leeway that the county has in doing some things,” Bertram said. “For purposes of anything long-term, we’re gonna have to advertise.”

Rogers then asked about Manning and the possibility of him splitting time at the detention and judicial centers. Rogers called Taylor County Jailer Hack Marcum and spoke with him for a few minutes, and the two agreed that something could be worked out.

Marcum said he wasn’t sure how much time Manning would have to dedicate to the judicial center, but he was confident he could get the job done for now.

“This is an emergency situation,” Bertram said. “We’re asking the jail maintenance custodian to bridge the gap here, but we need to begin immediately looking for somebody else who also can be doing this, maybe even on a full-time basis, temporarily, until we can get the bid packages out and back.”

There is no timetable on how long that process will take, but the magistrates believe they have found a suitable solution for now.

The court voted to appoint Manning to fill the spot for now with the intent to keep looking for someone in a temporary role.

“There’s all kinds of things that could happen,” Gaines said. “I don’t know where you’re going to find this person and we probably won’t find him tonight, but within two or three days, maybe we’ll find someone interested in doing this for two or three weeks until we can bid it out.”