BRADENTON -- Out of retirement and back into the mix of Manatee County's Animal Services, former Manatee County Public Safety Director Bill Hutchison rejoins the No-Kill fight with hopes of rescuing the very troubled department he once headed.
Thursday afternoon in the Manatee Room of the Administration Building, County Administrator Ed Hunzeker spoke to a room of 30, including a half dozen members of the press, about what the county intends to do concerning the never-ending Animal Services debacle. Hunzeker said, "It's time to make a change."
The change he spoke of was not limited to Hutchinson heading the department, but to the funding for better training of employees, better facilities to house and care for the animals, better vetting of the partnerships that work with the county to obtain a No-Kill status and better agreements that identify the expectations and goals of Animal Services.
Hunzeker said Hutchison would be reporting to him, not Ron Koper, Manatee County's Public Safety Director, who has taken a considerable amount of criticism for the way reported complaints have been handled.
Hunzeker said, "(Hutchison) has a proven track record of success as a leader in this organization and is already well-known and respected in the animal community. Bill understands the importance of this division and the No Kill initiative to both our Board and to the public.”
Hutchison said, "I was here when we started the No-Kill program, and we wanted to do it without additional funding." When asked why he was returning to the department, he said, "Ed is hard to say no to."
Left to right: Hunzeker, Hutchison, Dewer and Richmond (Supervisor of Animal Services)
Hutchison said that he was shooting for a 95 percent "save rate" when the county started the No-Kill program, and agreed with Hunzeker's praise that the program has maintained a 90 percent save rate for the past 15 months.
That claim has trouble, considering no reflection on the numbers explain the 300 animals that were confiscated from the Napier's Animal Sanctuary, when MCSO raided the facility, shutting it down, exposing county residents to what some have said has been a troubled Animal Services for years. The county claims a lack of proper oversight allowed the facility to get to the unacceptable conditions that outraged the public.
No one knows how many animals were actually adopted or died, or if records were tainted. I asked Hunzeker if he could explain the claim of 90 percent under such circumstances; he said, "No I can't."
One of the chief critics of the troubled department has been At-Large County Commission candidate Terri Wonder. Wonder attended the press conference and said, "It has taken three years of outcry from those who knew of the problems, and it's telling that this is happening in an election year."
Commissioner Robin DiSabatino, who has been the loudest voice on the board calling for reform, commented, "It took so long -- I'm glad a decision was finally made by the administrator."
Kris Weiskopf, who is being replaced by Hutchison will be moving to "Code Enforcement," but no position was announced, while Peyt Dewar, a 9-year veteran from Code Enforcement, was said to be moving to Animal Services.