WESTPORT — The town animal control officer has completed around 120 barn inspections, according to Town Administrator Timothy King, but that did not stop tense exchanges between members of the select board and town animal activists.
Stop the Insanity’s Kathy Saylor-Feininger and Constance Gee continued their criticism of how the town has handled state barn inspections and other animal welfare issues. Saylor-Feininger noted how the number of reported inspections have fluctuated — reported two weeks ago by King that there are 166 that the town must conduct.
Selectmen Chairman Steven Ouellette and Selectman R. Michael Sullivan took umbrage with some of the critical remarks, saying the town has worked hard to correct all issues that led to the landmark animal abuse case in July 2016.
Saylor-Feininger questioned why King had reported that 120 out of 140 had been conducted. This number was especially surprising, because it was reported in late December that close to 100 were incomplete.
“At one point, we were told 12 were done,” Saylor-Feininger said. “How do you conduct 128 barn inspections in two weeks?”
Gee at one point during the recent meeting indicated that progress with the town’s animal inspection process and related issues have not improved within the last year and a half, during which the landmark animal abuse case occurred.
Gee and Saylor-Feininger also rebuked the reported communication issues that led to the town getting behind on barn book inspections. The assistant animal inspectors were not available to assist Animal Control Officer Donna Lambert and there was no funding available for Lambert to complete the bulk of them.
In late December, a stipend was awarded to Lambert to complete the rest of them.
“All of this, and the fact that we have 200, then 100, then 166 and then 140 (barn inspections) — this all speaks to the need for an animal site registry,” Gee said.
Ouellette retorted that the state has been involved and is constantly in contact with the town. He also said there has been weekly talk among select board members.
“Because of the proprietary nature of information that is collected, we are not privy to a lot of the detail but on the aggregate, we are satisfied that they (barn inspections) are on the trajectory to get done,” Sullivan said.
Ouellette also mentioned that barn book numbers often fluctuate and Lambert mentioned that before she took over the inspections there were some inaccurate reporting being conducted.
Lambert said some properties no longer need to be inspected. She also stood by the statistic that she has conducted around 120 recent inspections, including several recently in sub-zero weather.
Lambert said she has conducted as many as 10 inspections per day six days per week, and has learned that many animals, even during the frigid weather at late, are well cared for.
Lambert said she will not have a firm number of how many inspections the town must annually conduct until her work is complete.
Selectmen Vice Chairwoman Shana Shufelt agreed that the job description of the ACO, as well as the corresponding responsibilities of barn inspections and compensation mechanisms, should have been spelled out much earlier in the year. Shufelt, the chair of the Animal Action Committee, took responsibility and said that must be clearly defined soon.
“Things broke down. I don’t want to suggest we were perfect. I think what we need to do is resolve the job description of what that person (ACO) agrees their job description is and what is agreed to be that payrate,” Shufelt said.