Kent County Levy Court commissioners formally approved a new dog control contract with the Kent County SPCA the evening of Sept. 10, but not until after one commissioner said he could not work with the group’s current management.
The vote was 6 – 1 in favor, with Commissioner George “Jody” Sweeney voting against.
The contract, which goes into effect Oct. 1, runs through June 2014.
Sweeney said his objections centered on the leadership of the SPCA; without naming names, he alluded to Executive Director Kevin Usilton and Usilton’s alleged history of a hostile attitude toward anyone who make comments he considers detrimental to the SPCA.
The SPCA’s leader and staff, Sweeney said, had “committed contempt by walking out of the proceedings, sending constituents to our doors with dog and cat issues, directed their staff to hand out personal cell phone numbers for cat issues, levied numerous personal attacks on all of us, both through social web pages, comments at board meetings and at the podium in these chambers.”
The latter referred, Sweeney said, to Usilton’s comments on during a Sept. 3 committee meeting on the dog control contract, remarks he said were made even after he and Commissioner Eric Buckson asked everyone to take a more positive attitude toward events.
“Some people, against my suggestion to use the time positively, chose to level negative comments about the current dog control services and myself,” he said.
Despite this, he had been ready to forgive all the prior negativity and approve the contract with the SPCA, “right up until the second the executive director of the SPCA stepped up to the podium and opened his mouth,” Sweeney said.
“After hearing Commissioner Buckson’s request to move on, the executive director still chose to use his moment at the podium to attack with negative comments,” Sweeney said.
During that Sept. 3 meeting, Usilton said he often uses social media to promote the SPCA’s adoption program and other efforts, but admitted he also uses it to respond to negative comments about the organization.
“Commissioner Sweeney has blasted the SPCA 96 times on social media, which has been an issue for the SPCA,” Usilton told commissioners.
“Just this weekend he posted 12 times. We would love to stop with Commissioner Sweeney if he would stop with us,” Usilton said.
In casting his vote, Sweeney said he could not see giving a county contract to the SPCA while Usilton leads the organization.
“Because of that, in my honest opinion, as long as that executive director is in charge of the SPCA, I don’t see a successful resolution and I will not support a contract with them, so my vote is no,” he said.
Page 2 of 2 - Near the end of the night’s session, however, Buckson, clearly exasperated, said the back and forth attacks have to stop.
“I’m not too concerned about what the executive director is saying about anyone else,” Buckson said. “I’m only concerned if they’re fulfilling the contract the way it’s described and written.
“And that’s what I mean by stopping. Somebody’s got to stop.”
“I’m simply requesting that at some point in time, someone has to be the grownup in the room who says, ‘I’ve had enough of this, I’m going to put it down,’” he continued.
If, Buckson said, it becomes clear the SPCA is not living up to the terms of the contract, he’d support going another direction, including setting up a county dog control division.
“But not yet, not at this time,” Buckson said. “I’m going to give them their chance, and I’m going to be hopeful that they make it happen.”
In other business, Sweeney had earlier seen an amendment he proposed to the contract, authorizing County Administrator Michael Petit de Mange to examine the possibility of the county establishing its own dog control division, voted down.
In general, commissioners liked the idea, but felt adding that provision to the actual contract was not a good thing to do.
“Good idea, inappropriate time,” Commissioner Glen Howell said.
Commissioners also voted to support Commissioner Allan Angel in his bid for election to the National Association of Counties. The NACo supports county governments throughout the United States; Angel is seeking election as the group’s second vice president.