Donohue requested open hearing
The town’s animal control officer Sheila S. Donohue was terminated on January 3 and last week the town posted on its website a 24-page audit report which describes the irregularities and concerns that prompted the firing.
The audit had been requested in early 2011 by Town Manager Joseph M. Zeneski and was completed last June. Mr. Zeneski said that he had worked with Ms. Donohue since that time to correct the problems, but it didn’t work out. “Some people are beating me up over this,” he said, “because they say Sheila cared for animals. Others are saying, ‘what took you so long.’ “
It has become a very public issue; twenty or so supporters of Ms. Donohue picketed the Town Hall before a Board of Selectmen meeting two weeks ago, and the internet airways have been filled with vitriol.
Mr. Zeneski said the seven cats that were in the animal shelter in December were moved to the Barton Brook Kennel in Leicester under the supervision of the MSPCA. All but one of the cats has now been placed. The shelter was not a safe place for animals, he said, with just a small space heater to warm it.
Ms. Donohue had been the part-time Oxford animal control officer since 2006. In August 2011 she was also appointed as part-time animal control officer in Dudley, and began that job October 3. Town Administrator Peter Jankowski said this week that she’s been doing a good job in Dudley. “We’ve had no issues in the few months that she has been here.”
Ms. Donohue said: “Working in Dudley has been a pleasure. Everyone has been welcoming and receptive. I plan to continue working very hard and perform the job to the best of my abilities. I’m committed to my career and my job.”
Ms. Donohue’s resume attests to her love for animals, with work experience including twelve years at the UMass Medical School Department of Animal Medicine and eleven years at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine. She has a large number of certifications and has participated in numerous professional organizations and activities. In April she will be completing a program at the National Animal Control Academy for national certification as an animal control officer.
The Oxford audit was prepared by Melanson Heath & Co. of Andover. It confirmed that the following had occurred.
1. Failure to submit accurate and timely activity and collections reports
2. Submitting payroll hours in excess of limits place by management
3. Holding animals beyond minimum time periods and providing medical treatment after the time periods have expired
4. Running an animal shelter without express authorization from the town
5. Failure to turn over activity logs maintained at the town facility
6. Failure to meet with the town auditor or to provide requested information
7. Failure to keep accurate control over veterinary bills to avoid duplicate payment
One of the items, not holding animals beyond minimum time periods seems to be especially galling to animal lovers and supporters.
The report states: “The Massachusetts General Laws and Town By-Laws authorize the animal control officer to pick-up stray dogs and cats and to release the animals for a fee paid by the owners or custodians. The General Laws and By-Laws also call for the animals to be killed, adopted or turned over to a licensed facility after a period of ten days for dogs and three days for cats. The MGL or Town By-Laws do not authorize the Town to accept or release animals surrendered by their owners and to hold them for adoption.”
In other words, the animal control officer is authorized only to impound animals, not accept them for adoption. Mr. Zeneski said it’s fine to use common sense with the animals. “Certainly, if we know an owner is on vacation we can wait until he returns. But, he said, the town by-laws require that if an animal is diseased or feral or rabid, there are procedures to follow.”
He said he discussed the irregularities with Ms. Donohue early on, but “she reacted extremely defensively, which suggested that there might be something wrong here.” That prompted his request for the audit.
Ms. Donohue received a copy of the audit at a meeting with Mr. Zeneski on December 22nd. She said she submitted a request in writing to him and every member of the Board of Selectman asking for an open hearing.
“My integrity has been questioned,” she said. “I’m willing to discuss the audit.”
In describing the role of an animal control officer, Ms. Donohue said that in many towns it has evolved quite a bit over the last 10 or 20 years. “It’s not just the old dog catcher job anymore. We are becoming more professional and now work with all kinds of animals. We can come take care of the raccoon on your deck, too.”
In spite of the difficulty with the Town, Ms. Donohue says Oxford has a lot of wonderful, generous people, and she is proud of her accomplishments there, especially her work on the new animal shelter. “That has been a great community effort,” she said, “sort of like an old-fashioned barn raising.”
Ms. Donohue said she plans to “defend my honor and integrity.” She would not say what form that might take.
The auditors recommended that their report be turned over to appropriate authorities; it has been sent to the district attorney and the attorney general’s office.
To read the report, go to www.town.oxford.ma.us, then click on accountant, then on ACO Forensic Audit.
- Tuesday, 24 January 2012
- Posted in Categories: : News