Animal Shelter likely to remain in MHHS control until next June

Posted on Tuesday, August 12, 2014 at 11:44 am

The sands appear to be shifting again for the Morristown/Hamblen County Animal Shelter after the Hamblen County Commission’s public services committee meeting Monday morning.

Due to the lack of an “out clause” in the city of Morristown’s contract, committee members voted unanimously to essentially give current operators, the embattled Morristown-Hamblen Humane Society, until June 30, 2015 with some provisions.

Hamblen County Mayor Bill Brittain said he, City Attorney Dick Jessee, City Administrator Tony Cox, Morristown Mayor Danny Thomas, County Attorney Chris Caps and commissioner Louis “Doe” Jarvis met last week to discuss the future of the animal shelter.

The meeting was requested during the County Commission meeting last month, in which commissioners voted unanimously to direct Brittain to work with the city to begin a transition plan “in anticipation” of contracting with the Animal Care Center of Hamblen County to provide service to the shelter.

It was essentially a plan that would have removed the Hamblen County Humane Society from operating the shelter.

According to Brittain, Jessee discovered that the current contract between the city and the Humane Society does not have an “out clause” and without raising the possibility of litigation, the earliest the city would not be obligated to the Humane Society would be next June.

The contract does have a 120-day notification clause that requires the city to give the Humane Society notice by March 1, 2015 if it does not intend to renew the contract.

Jarvis said breaching the contract anyway would likely be a moot gesture.

“They can get out of a contract if there is a breach, but the breach is not defined,” Jarvis said. “It doesn’t (specify what a breach is). It would probably take six to seven months before that case was heard in Chancery Court.

“In the meantime, they’re still there, unless somehow an injunction could be brought. Then that would put the city at about $100,000 to $160,000 exposure, plus what we’re putting in it now.

“That would be $100,000 plus for the equipment (to replace what the HCHS owns) as far as $20,000 to $30,000 in legal fees on each side.

“And what we would gain out of that would be two or three months that would probably come at the end of April. Financially, in my opinion, it makes sense to do what we said we’d do four or five months ago.”

Brittain presented the committee two options, enter into the plan of action outlined when the shelter issue came to a head months ago. That plan would entail creating a superceding contract good through June of 2015 with stipulations the shelter must meet in terms of financial reporting as well as the creation of an oversight committee.

That contract would include a termination provision of 30 days with cause and 60 days without cause.

Jarvis explained that the new contract will preempt the previous contract and define what a breach of contract would be.

The second option would be the county assume shelter operations totally and contract with someone else or provide the service itself.

The motion to pursue the new contract will go before the entire commission during its monthly meeting on Aug. 21 at 5 p.m. at the main courthouse.

Brittain also said the Humane Society must hire a permanent director as soon as possible, allow volunteers to return and hold its election of new board of directors members.

Recent developments have only added to the myriad of issues surrounding the shelter which include months of controversies ranging from an alleged theft of funds to a schism within the society resulting in the development of another group and a ban of volunteer support.

In addition, Hamblen County Sheriff Esco Jarnagin recently said he had to pull inmates from working at the shelter due to lack of supervision.

“Several months ago, I volunteered our inmates to the Hamblen County Animal Shelter in an effort to increase the level of care that the animals received. This helped to lessen the load of the dedicated volunteers,” Jarnagin said. “More recently, the inmates were removed from the Animal Shelter because of the lack of supervision. The Animal Shelter has many problems, but I assure you that the removal of the inmates did not cause any of these problems. I support any positive effort that can resolve this tragic problem in a very timely fashion.”

Jarnagin said he would reconsider placing inmates at the shelter once “the storm has blown over.”

The shelter also lost its partnership with Petsense.

Petsense, which worked with the shelter when the store opened in Morristown, said it cancelled their partnership with the shelter due to “many occasions that felines have needed medical attention or medicines and it has taken numerous calls to get a response out of the humane society.

“When we have a sick feline, depending on the illness, it poses a health risk to the other felines in our care, as well as those pets that visit our store. It is because of the lack of stewardship and responsibility that we have halted adoptions from the humane society. It is for the health and well being of the other felines in our store, whether adoption felines or personal pets that enter our store,” a letter from the store’s manager stated.

Additionally, the election of new board members has hit a glitch as Hamblen County Humane Society members continue to wait for ballots more than two weeks after a special meeting was called.

Last week, HCHS President Christine Coley said they hope to have ballots out as soon as possible stating, “We are currently working with our attorney because there have been some obstacles.”

The revised contract with the HCHS, if approved by commissioners, still has to be signed by their board.

-By Aletheia Davidson, Tribune Staff Writer

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