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January 31. 2013 8:33PM

Animal control creates tension in Danville

DANVILLE - The town's former animal control officer plans to challenge a proposal that would throw out last year's town meeting vote to make the job an elected position.

Sheila Johannesen said she will fight a warrant article proposed by selectmen this year to rescind the vote and allow the town to keep a regional ACO contract with the Plaistow Police Department instead.

Johannesen served as ACO from 2003 to 2011, when selectmen decided not to reappoint her. Instead, they chose to contract out the services to Plaistow's ACO in a move that has saved the town money, according to Selectman Shawn O'Neil, board chairman.

Selectmen never gave Johannesen a reason for letting her go, but she claims it was orchestrated by O'Neil as a "personal vendetta" because the two rarely saw eye to eye when it came to her budget and the volume of calls.

"Shawn and I have always butted heads," she said.

Johannesen proposed a citizen-petitioned warrant article last year to make the ACO an elected position, which was approved 418 to 263.

Voters in March will elect the ACO for the first time since the article passed and Johannesen plans to run, but selectmen have now proposed an article to be considered at the polls in March that seeks to toss last year's vote.

The proposal has angered Johannesen, who is also Hampstead's ACO.

"When the town votes for something you don't expect the selectmen to not do what you voted for," she said.

She accused O'Neil of acting like a "bully" at meetings, but he disagrees.

"I'm looking out for the town's best interests," he said, adding that he has "no personal vendetta against anybody."

O'Neil said the town is getting a "better product and at a cheaper cost" with the Plaistow contract.

He noted that Brian Farrell, who serves as Danville and Plaistow's ACO, is also a police officer who has more powers than Johannesen did when she was ACO.

"There's a lot of stuff that an ACO can't do that a police officer can do, such as issuing summonses and tickets," O'Neil said.

But the bigger issue seems to be money.

In her last year as ACO, Johannesen said her budget was just under $12,000. Of that, she said she earned a salary of about $7,000 while her assistant was paid between $2,000 and $3,000. The rest of the budget was used to cover related expenses, she said.

Under the Plaistow contract, O'Neil claims Danville has received a "superior" level of ACO services with a budget of only $6,000 in 2012. He said the budget this year has been lowered to $4,500.

"You've got a person who's got training. He's gone to the Police Standards and Training (Council). Sheila has not," he said.

As for her budget, Johannesen said she worked on the numbers with the police chief.

"The budget wasn't done solely by me," she said.

Johannesen insists the town is getting shortchanged, claiming she's heard from some residents who have contacted her with animal problems because they were unable to reach Farrell. She said she's helped people with their animal issues, like reuniting a lost dog with its owner, even though she's no longer ACO.

Johannesen said she believes she handled more ACO calls when she served.

She filed a request under the state's right-to-know law seeking ACO records on Jan. 15 but said she hasn't received them yet.

She wants to see records that include, among other things, animal-related calls for service responded to by any Danville police officer as well as the ACO; dog licensing records, tickets, fines and court cases; time spent on animal-related tickets, fines, and ACO summonses; and the ACO time sheets and logs.

Johannesen said she hoped to have the information in hand for Saturday's deliberative session, where voters will debate proposed warrant articles but claims she was told she would receive everything by Feb. 19.

O'Neil said Johannesen requested too much information and that it will take time to pull it all together.

"We are not stonewalling this," he said.

jschreiber@newstote.com


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