March 03. 2013 9:59PM

Animal control debate intensifies between Danville, Plaistow officials

Union Leader Correspondent

DANVILLE - Plaistow Police Chief Steve Savage is taking issue with accusations made by a former Danville animal control officer who claims Plaistow's regional officer hasn't responded to some calls in Danville.

Sheila Johannesen told Danville voters at last month's deliberative session that some calls aren't being answered by the Plaistow animal control officer, who now serves Danville through a regional contract. She insists she's heard from people who found lost dogs and were looking for her help but couldn't reach the Plaistow officer.

Now Savage wants to see some proof.

"If she has some information that we're not providing an adequate service I'd like to know about it. If she can't give me specifics, I'm going to assume where it came from is dubious," Savage said. "If she wants to sell this off to the people of Danville, that's not the way."

Johannesen's comments came amid controversy over the future of animal control services in Danville.

She served as Danville's animal control officer until 2011, when she wasn't reappointed. Selectmen decided to ink a deal with the Plaistow Police Department to have its animal control officer handle Danville's calls at an hourly rate.

But voters last year approved a warrant article spearheaded by Johannesen to make the position elected beginning this March. Johannesen wants the job back and is now running for the position, but selectmen have proposed a new warrant article to be voted on March 12 that would rescind last year's vote, allowing the town to keep its contract with Plaistow.

No matter what happens, Danville voters must elect an ACO to fill the position for the next year. If they rescind last year's vote in order to keep the Plaistow contract, the contract will go back into effect after next March.

Since signing the contract with Plaistow, Selectman Shawn O'Neil, board chairman, has said the town's costs for animal control have dropped from nearly $12,000 when Johannesen held the position to about $4,500 proposed in this year's budget.

Meanwhile, Johannesen has taken legal action in Rockingham County Superior Court to gain access to various town records related to animal control services in Danville.

She filed a petition for injunctive relief last week after claiming the town has not yet handed over all of the information she requested under the state's right-to-know law in a timely manner.

Among the documents she's seeking are records of animal-related calls for services responded to by a Danville officer or Plaistow's regional ACO; records of dog licensing, tickets, fines and court cases; and time spent on those tickets, fines and the issuance of summonses.

She said she wrote a formal request to the Danville Police Department on Jan. 15 seeking time cards, accounting information and other documents.

The request was forwarded to selectmen, who told Johannesen on Jan. 22 that a decision to provide the records would be made by Feb. 19. She then contacted the selectmen's clerk and asked that information be provided as it became available rather than wait until it was all compiled.

Selectmen approved her request and informed her that all of the information would be available by March 15.

In her petition, Johannesen said she felt March 15 was an "unacceptable" deadline as it was after the town elections to be held March 12.

She warned selectmen that if she didn't receive the information by Feb. 19 she would take action at superior court.