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posted: 8/31/2011 4:58 AM

Kane County animal control employees to help pick new boss

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A freshly formed county board subcommittee began the task of finding the next Kane County Animal Control director Tuesday night and found a willing group of internal experts.

A subcommittee led by county board member Bonnie Kunkel will draw up the job description and duties of that new leader. But current animal control employees told the subcommittee Tuesday they are eager to have a voice in the selection of their new boss.

"You all need help," said Lynne Ellberg, an administrative assistant at animal control to the subcommittee.

The next animal control director will be tasked with rebuilding a county department immersed in public criticism for a bloated budget, lack of transparency and internal mismanagement. County board members began taking a closer look at animal control when an internal investigation resulted in the suspension of the department's former director.

That director, Mary Lawrie, then resigned just before a lawsuit regarding the condition of animals adopted by a pet rescue hit the county. Since then, county board members have picked apart the operations of the department.

A task force and a board members on a new subcommittee have leveled sharp criticism at the county staff about decisions made on employee raises, the disbanding of volunteers and the overall costs of the operation being far more than that of other counties that also offer more services.

Board members recently decided the first step in righting the ship will be the hiring of an animal control director who serves as both the administrator and veterinarian for the first time.

Foremost on their list is the hiring of a director who has experience working in an animal shelter.

An animal control operation is far different from a veterinary practice, said Lauren Bluestone, a warden at animal control. Knowing the financial and legal restraints involved with an animal control operation is more important than having veterinary skill in caring for the county's animals, Bluestone said.

Bluestone said animal control's approach to animals is unique because there is little to no medical or behavioral history known for most of the animals the county deals with.

"You have a strong limitation in shelter medicine because of budget constraints," Bluestone said. "The tools the vets have learned and used in the past -- that's not going to be available."

Kunkel told the employees she is eager to hear their input. Subcommittee members also said they will take a deliberate, detailed approach to hiring the new animal control director so as not to repeat the mistakes of the past.