Sullivan County might seek input from UT before hiring new manager for animal shelter

J. H. Osborne • Updated Jun 22, 2018 at 9:19 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — For the time being, the day-to-day operation of the Sullivan County Animal Shelter is being conducted with Teresa McMahan manning the facility under the continued oversight of the county’s budget office.

McMahan retired last year as executive director of Sullivan County’s public library system and has long been involved in animal rescue work. She’s been doing work for the shelter ever since the county regained sole control of the facility on January 1 after years of it having been operated by a partnership with Kingsport and Bluff City.

McMahan was asked to step in and man the shelter after its manager quit on Tuesday. That $12-per-hour employee was the only holdover from the shelter’s days as a part of the now-dissolved “SBK” partnership with the cities.

The manager has been derided for months by a group of shelter volunteers, during public comment at the Sullivan County Commission’s meetings and perhaps more so via social media. On Monday that group complained the manager didn’t follow protocol by allowing a dog to be adopted out of the shelter before the shelter’s opening hours.

On Thursday, Accounts and Budgets Director Larry Bailey said the manager probably used poor judgement and made a mistake is the handling of the before-hours adoption on Monday. But Bailey said he would welcome her future involvement, at some level, in operation of the shelter if she ever decided to come back.

As for finding a replacement, Bailey said the county might seek input from the University of Tennessee on how to conduct a successful search for a qualified manager for the facility. Bailey said he believes it will be best, under the circumstances, if a new manager can be found who has no prior connection to any of the factions currently involved. The county is not soliciting applicants for the job at this time, Bailey said.

Bailey said the county already has benefited from working with UT in regard to the shelter since taking back control of the facility on January 1. The county has been participating in a free spay and neuter program offered by UT, thanks to an inquiry originally initiated by the manager who quit Tuesday.

The breakdown in cooperation among the multiple parties involved in the shelter’s operation is clear in the existence of three different ways to look up what animals are available for adoption. The county’s official stance since January 1 has been it posts all the information and directs public inquiries to the county’s official website (www.sullivancountytn.gov). One or more employees and volunteers originally established a Facebook page to promote the shelter (Sullivan County, TN Animals) eight years ago (according to Facebook), but when infighting over control of that site left several volunteers “blocked” from it, a second Facebook page (Sullivan County Animal Shelter) was created by Sarah Foster, an attorney as well as a volunteer at the shelter. Foster, speaking to the county commission on various occasions, has touted her profession and offered to help the county harness the resources available from the volunteers. She created the Facebook page Sullivan County Animal Shelter about a month ago. It includes many posts that focus on animals available for adoption. But it also has been used as a constant sounding board for complaints about the shelter’s staff and county officials.