—– By: Ann Costantino —–
Four top employees have been let go from the Baltimore County Animal Services (BCPS) in Baldwin after complaints ranging from inaccurate live release rates and elevated employee salaries surfaced over the last several months.
Dr. Melissa Jones, Gary Klunk, Will Webster, and Lauren Pavlik were the employees let go, according to an internal email from Dr. Gregory Branch, director of Health and Human Services.
Last last month, The Baltimore Post requested salary information for the shelter employees through a Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA) request. Documents showed that although Jones was the BCAS chief veterinarian, she was listed for the last two years as a senior assistant to former County Administrative Officer Fred Homan.
To put things into perspective, the late Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz earned $175,000 a year. County Executive Johnny Olszewski earns the same, per county code.
Gary Klunk, purportedly former County Administrative Officer Fred Homan’s nephew, was listed as a Management Analyst IV and a Management Analyst Part Time.
And as for William Webster, he was paid in 2017 as both an Animal Shelter Assistant and an Animal Services Behavior and Enrichment Coordinator.
Lauren Pavlik was an Animal Services Shelter Supervisor, formerly a Foster Coordinator and Veterinary Technician.
Asked for a statement about the employees who were let go, through spokesperson T.J. Smith, Olszewski said, “Baltimore County Government is charged with delivering quality services and programs to every Baltimore County resident through every agency.”
Of a recent audit of the department, Olszewski said, “This assessment of Baltimore County Animal Services identified a need for improvements, and we are committed to increased transparency and collaboration between Health and Human Services and the Commission in order to ensure those improvements are realized.”
But according to spokesman, T.J. Smith, “The report and the personnel changes have nothing to do with one another.”
No one, including the four employees who were let go, have been publicly accused by the county of any wrongdoing.
Smith said that Baltimore County’s Communications Director, Dr. Lucia Donatelli will now “assume the overall administrative responsibilities of the Division.”
The county recently began a review of BCAS after advocates called for the county to intervene due to allegations that administration was making live release numbers appear higher than they were by asking those surrendering their pets to sign a consent to euthanize which, by default, allowed the shelter not to count certain animal euthanasia as shelter-directed. Additionally, a reduction in intake of animals allowed for the appearance of fewer animals that would need to be adopted out.
The report stated that “After receiving a considerable number of citizen and advocacy group concerns regarding Baltimore County Animal Services and its care of animals, the Administration directed the county’s internal Operational Excellence group to conduct a 30-day operational review of the current state of the animal shelter’s operation with a focus on the care of the animals in its custody.”
That report can be view here.
Concerned citizens and advocates have complained for years about BCAS. The issue came to a head when a dog named Oscar froze to death after abandoned in a backyard over a year ago, despite repeated calls to BCAS and the county to help the animal. Concerned citizens blamed County Administrator Homan for the conditions of the shelter and BCAS management’s lack of action.
When Olszewski took office on December 3, he asked Homan to retire. Stacey Rodgers took the helm as the county’s new county administrative officer earlier this year.
Deborah Hess, the chair of the Baltimore County Animal Services Advisory Commission told The Baltimore Post, “The Baltimore County Animal Services Advisory Commission is pleased the Johnny Olszewski Administration is addressing the serious concerns we outlined in our 2018 annual report. These problems preceded this Administration. But its prompt action means we have taken a first step toward placing animal welfare at the top of the BCAS mission.” The commission was created through legislation passed by the Baltimore County Council and has been meeting since 2015. Hess spent 20 years in television news, 15 at WJZ TV, before taking on the role.
Additional records, obtained by The Baltimore Post, show that BCAS took in $67,063.01 in monetary donations between 2014 and 2018 and has had dozens of volunteers who have cared for the animals.
This story will be updated.