Now that the Guilford County Board of Commissioners has selected a site for the county’s new animal shelter, the county still has to find a major piece of the puzzle – a new Animal Services director – in order to complete the picture.

County officials are searching hard but it now looks like Guilford County will hire an animal services management firm to help run the shelter until at least the end of 2017. In addition to providing a temporary director, that firm is also expected to review the shelter’s programs, practices and procedures.

Last week, the Guilford County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to purchase land to build a new $9 million shelter at 979 Guilford College Road. That 12-acre tract of heavily wooded property in unincorporated Guilford County is on the west side of Guilford College Road between Greensboro and High Point.

The commissioners didn’t discuss the land purchase for long at the board’s Thursday, August 17 meeting before taking a vote. However, in the two years leading up to that decision – especially behind closed doors – they’ve talked with each other until they were blue in the face about where the county’s new animal shelter should go.

With that decision now out of the way, Guilford County officials have turned to helping staff find a director who doesn’t quit or get fired soon after taking the job. It’s not something they’ve had much luck with in recent years.

Director Marsha Williams was removed in mid-2015 when state investigators found widespread animal abuse and neglect at the shelter. After that, Sheriff’s Department and Animal Control staff took over many of the responsibilities. For a while, Logan Rustin held the job, but Rustin eventually threw his hands up in the air and said publicly that it was too hard to please all the parties involved. Guilford County then hired Drew Brinkley, who came very highly recommended from Orange County Animal Services, but Brinkley resigned last month after state investigators found dogs at the shelter had been left without adequate protection from the sun on a hot summer day. One county official said that, in addition to the infractions discovered last month, there was a feeling that Brinkley was “reactive” rather than proactive in running the shelter.

In the periods between other directors, the role of running the shelter has also been filled by Deputy County Manager Clarence Grier – who’s now handling those duties again in the wake of Brinkley’s departure.

Given the history of the shelter, some commissioners are worried that the best candidates will not want to come work at a shelter with such a troubled history – and one that remains the target of constant criticism on Facebook and other social media platforms.

Guilford County is conducting a nationwide search for a new director but County Manager Marty Lawing said that the county is considering enlisting the help of a management firm to run the shelter until a new director is named.

“We also looked at it from several other angles in case we were not successful in getting the applicants at the level we need,” Lawing said of the current director’s search. “We talked to a recruitment agency to see what they may offer. We also talked with a couple of firms that provide experienced animal services directors on a temporary, short-term basis.”

Lawing said that might be the county’s best strategy until a permanent director can be found. He said he and other county staff are reviewing firms that handle those duties and may make a selection soon. In the meantime, he said, the search for a new Animal Services director continues.

“We’ve been advertising for the last several weeks,” Lawing said. “HR has sent probably 25 candidates to myself and Mr. Grier, ones who meet the qualifications.”

In all, the county had received 78 applications by Monday, August 21, though most of those do not meet the minimum qualifications.

Lawing said that he and other county administrators will get together and see which of those applicants should be interviewed.

When Brinkley was hired, the search was conducted and overseen almost entirely by county staff, but, given the recent concerns, some county commissioners want to have more say in the process. Both Chairman of the Board of Commissioners Jeff Phillips and Commissioner Justin Conrad, who is chairman of the Guilford Animal Services Advisory Board, said this week they want to keep a close watch over the selection process.

Grier said a likely timeline would be for the county to use a service for a period of six-months.

“We should be able to find a director by then,” the county’s deputy manager said.

Conrad said he calls Grier frequently and, he added, he appreciates the job Grier has done filling in running the shelter on top of his other duties.

“I usually know real fast where he is when he answers the phone,” Conrad said, no doubt referring to the sound of dogs barking and cats meowing in the background.

The new Animal Services director position has a salary range of $90,000 to $120,000. Currently, there’s no closing date on applications.

Brinkley’s salary was $90,000 during the time he worked for the county.

The job listing states that the position calls for a “Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, Public Administration, Animal Science or a related field, and five to seven years of progressively responsible experience in Animal Welfare Administration, Management, and/or Animal Control with supervisory experience; OR High School Diploma or GED and nine years of progressively responsible experience in Animal Welfare Administration, Management, and/or Animal Control with supervisory experience.”

The listing also states that the county prefers applicants who are certified as animal welfare administrators.

Cutline: Photo by Scott D. Yost

Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Jeff Phillips recently showed the Rhino Times around the property the county purchased at 979 Guilford College Road for the new $9 million animal shelter. The shelter is expected to open in 2019 but clearly quite a few trees will have to be removed first. Phillips said that the next day he had some chigger bites on his ankles from his trek through the woods.