Nearly two years after state investigators found widespread animal neglect and abuse at the Guilford County and Davidson County animal shelters, Marsha Williams, who ran both shelters in 2015 and was charged in Davidson County with felony cruelty to animals, pleaded guilty to reduced charges.
The Guilford County commissioners and other county officials now have closure on that animal shelter issue – the fate of Williams – but they’re still seeking finality on another matter: the location of the new $9 million animal shelter the county has in the works. Unlike the Williams case, that question is still unsettled.
Williams wasn’t charged in Guilford County, but the lingering Davidson County case ended last week. Davidson County prosecutors were gearing up for a court battle in which Williams’ attorneys filed motions alleging selective prosecution on racial grounds. However, Williams’ plea bargain deal made that and a related motions moot.
Williams, who was charged in Davidson County with one felony count of animal abuse and two felony charges of obstruction of justice, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor animal cruelty and obstruction and received a 45-day suspended sentence, 24 months of probation and a $100 fine.
Davidson County District Attorney Garry Frank said that the cases of two other related Davidson County shelter workers – Williams’ daughter and one other employee – are being prosecuted separately from Williams’ case.
Williams has never made any public comments on the case that shocked Guilford County and Davidson County residents in mid-August 2015. Animal welfare advocates said some revelations from the state findings of animal mistreatment in Guilford County emphasized a need for a new shelter, which should lead to better conditions for the animals being held by the county.
While there’s now closure on Williams’ case, the question of the location of the county’s new animal shelter remains an open one. Some interested parties want the shelter to remain right where it is, at 4525 W. Wendover Ave., just south of I-40 and convenient to High Point, the county’s second largest city.
Recently, the High Point City Council weighed in on the shelter location – to the chagrin of some Guilford County commissioners who said they thought the move was a little presumptuous. The High Point City Council voted to adopt a resolution that supported keeping the county’s shelter at the current location.
The resolution stated that the High Point Police Department transported 2,400 animals to the shelter in 2016 and added that “moving the shelter from its current location off Wendover Avenue to a site farther north in Guilford County will significantly increase travel time for High Point Animal Control Officers, causing them to be unavailable for service for additional hours each week, and … a shelter location farther away will increase the wait time for an animal to receive needed care.”
That resolution also pointed out that the Wendover Avenue site is centrally located in Guilford County, making it easier for High Point citizens to claim animals and drop them off.
That resolution states, “Some of our lower income families already struggle to make a trip to the shelter on Wendover due to transportation issues. If High Point residents cannot or will not drive to the new location, then [a] large number of animals will be euthanized.”
Guilford County Commissioner Carolyn Coleman said the county should keep the shelter where it is since the county has the land, residents are familiar with the site, it’s in a central location and neighbors in that busy business district can’t complain about the noise or extra traffic a shelter brings.
However, Chairman of the Board of Commissioners Jeff Phillips says he’d like to see a site with more space for volunteers to walk the dogs and also space for more services.
The county commissioners originally voted to move forward with plans to build the shelter on county-owned property in east Greensboro on Burlington Road next to the Guilford County Agricultural Center. Area residents and the Greensboro city councilmembers who represent the area objected to not being consulted before the Board of Commissioners vote. Once residents of the area and the City Council representatives of that area were notified of the plans to put an animal shelter there, they objected to the whole project.
Earlier this year, the commissioners were secretly looking at a potential site in northern Greensboro near Horse Pen Creek Road. However, sources say the price tag on that property was too hefty.
Price is also a big factor when it comes to another site now under consideration. The commissioners haven’t discussed the location publically, but one said the option is convenient to High Point. So it looks at this point as though – whether the commissioners keep the shelter where it is or move it – the new shelter will end up fairly close to High Point.
Phillips said he expects the commissioners to make a decision within 60 days.
“I realize I said that same thing in February at the retreat,” he said of the commissioners’ retreat over two months ago.
“We’ve narrowed our focus down to the existing site and one other,” the chairman said.
Since the location of the site is a secret, the commissioners may be running the risk of angering a new neighborhood if they choose this site and then announce it – if there are neighbors living nearby who don’t want to be next to a shelter.
Some commissioners say off the record that they thought the High Point resolution was a little out of school, but Phillips said he understands that High Point does, so to speak, have a dog in that fight.
“They certainly have a right to weigh in,” he said.
Phillips added that, even the Horse Pen Creek Road site that was under consideration would have been fairly convenient to residents in High Point given the new road and highway construction in the area.
Phillips said one thing being looked at closely is where animals are picked up and where the families adopting those animals live. He said the county has been “heat mapping” animal control calls and other data regarding the shelter’s use.
Phillips said it’s important to make the location decision in a deliberative manner and, given that the new shelter is going to serve Guilford County residents for years to come, it’s more important to get the shelter placement right than to get it done quickly.
According to the chairman, some animal welfare advocates are eager for the new shelter to be built and they therefore want a location chosen soon, but he added that the new site under consideration only showed up recently and more research is required.
“The other property surfaced late in the game,” Phillips said.
Commissioner Justin Conrad, who chairs the Guilford County Animal Services Advisory Board, said there are a lot of considerations to take into account.
“All stakeholders have to have a say,” Conrad said, adding that those players range from animal advocates to City of High Point officials to Animal Services staff.
Conrad said he would have preferred it if High Point officials had called the commissioners to express their wishes rather than voted on a resolution that no one in Guilford County government knew was coming. No county staff or commissioners had read the resolution when the Rhino Times spoke with them about it and many did not know High Point had even passed a resolution.
Conrad said he understands why High Point leaders don’t want a shelter in a location too distant from that city.
“I would assume they are concerned about the budgetary impact,” Conrad said.
He said he made his feelings about the best location of the new shelter very clear at the Board of Commissioners retreat in February.
“My feeling is that, not just the shelter, but all county services, should be as centralized as possible,” he said.