A longtime animal care professional hired more than seven years ago to help reform DuPage Animal Care and Control has been fired for what county officials called unprofessional conduct.
But Kerry Vinkler strongly denies claims her actions "caused a lack of direction and have negatively impacted the relationships" for the Wheaton animal shelter.
Vinkler says she believes she was terminated Friday from her $89,473-a-year director position for questioning whether her boss had the statutory authority to oversee animal control. She said she also tried to have the salary of a foundation coordinator removed from the budget of the shelter, which relies solely on fees.
"I feel so betrayed," she said.
County officials on Tuesday declined to comment about why Vinkler was fired. They said the reasons "are clearly stated" in Vinkler's termination letter.
According to a copy of the letter, which Vinkler provided to the Daily Herald, there were several concerns about the way she was running the shelter. They included Vinkler's alleged inability to account for her time spent outside the office, falsification of time sheets, failure to communicate with staff and failure to ensure the appropriate administration of animal control policies and guidelines.
"These actions," the letter reads, "have caused a lack of direction and have negatively impacted the relationships, both internal and external, for the Animal Control Department."
The letter indicates Vinkler didn't provide "any valid responses to any of the concerns." But Vinkler insists she wasn't given the opportunity to properly defend herself.
After spending about two weeks out of the office with a medical issue, Vinkler returned to work Oct. 17. She says she was confronted that morning by her supervisor, who immediately placed Vinkler on administrative leave.
Because she wasn't allowed inside the shelter, Vinkler says she couldn't get the paperwork documenting her whereabouts on days she wasn't in the office. Her termination came two days later.
"They said, 'Please produce this,''' Vinkler said. "But they gave me no opportunity to produce it."
When it comes to falsifying time sheets, Vinkler said she "made one error" on a time sheet. Vinkler also insists she made efforts to communicate with her staff and followed animal control policies and guidelines.
She acknowledged "low morale" among some staff members, but said it resulted from changes she was trying to make to the department.
She was hired in July 2005 to take animal control in a different direction. At the time, the department was dealing with repeated criticism for its treatment of animals and climbing euthanasia numbers.
On Tuesday morning, several pet activists told county board members Vinkler succeeded in changing the perception of the shelter among animal rescue groups and the public.
"When Kerry took over, things changed," said Robin Sweeney of As Good As Gold Golden Retriever Rescue of Northern Illinois. "Kerry has been a friend to all of us here in DuPage County as far as animal welfare goes."
Sweeney, who lives in Wheaton, said Vinkler helped reduce the number of animals euthanized at the shelter. "She helped ensure every adoptable animal in that shelter had the best possible chance of getting a new home," she said.
While Vinkler is planning to file an appeal with DuPage's human resources department, county officials are moving forward.
"DuPage County stands by the personnel decision that has been made and has moved in a new direction by appointing veterinary administrator Dr. Todd Faraone as interim director," county spokeswoman Johnna Kelly wrote in an email.
Faraone has been employed by the county since January 2007, according to Kelly.
Officials also responded to Vinkler's claim that her direct supervisor shouldn't have been Beth Welch, the administrator of the DuPage Convalescent Center.
"We have spoken with the state's attorney's office," Kelly wrote, "and to our knowledge there is no state statute that dictates animal care and control should report to a certain department."
Vinkler disagrees. "It wasn't appropriate for me to be under the convalescent center," she said. "I should been under the sheriff or the health department."
As for the foundation coordinator salary that Vinkler sought to have removed from the shelter's budget, Kelly said the individual performs other duties for animal care and control. So it's appropriate to have the person's salary paid by the shelter -- not the Friends of DuPage County Animal Care and Control Foundation, she said.
"Above all else, the welfare of our animals is our main priority," Kelly said. "And they are being properly cared for by our dedicated and professional staff."