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Animal Control Officer fired

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He had submitted a resignation letter the same day he was dismissed

By Stephen Lega

Marion County Animal Control Officer Jeff Wooldridge was fired July 7 after the Marion County Fiscal Court spent an hour in an executive session.

When the court returned to open session, it voted unanimously to terminate his employment with the county.

"It's a sensitive personnel matter that I'm really not at liberty to discuss," Marion County Judge/Executive John G. Mattingly said following the July 7 meeting.

Wooldridge was hired as the animal control officer in March of 2007. He did not attend the July 7 meeting, but two animal shelter employees, Sarah Gribbins and Kay Turpin, were called into the executive session with the fiscal court and Marion County Attorney Joe Mattingly. Gribbins and Turpin were in the executive session for about 20 minutes.

The magistrates remained behind closed doors for another 15 minutes after speaking with Gribbins and Turpin before returning to open session to make their decision.

Wooldridge had been suspended prior to last week's fiscal court meeting. On July 2, Judge Mattingly signed a 30-day suspension notice for Wooldridge. The notice reads that it was regarding "pending dismissal" relative to current disciplinary actions, prior disciplinary violations and failure or inability to correct deficiencies.

The suspension letter reads that in the past four and a half years, Wooldridge had numerous documented instances of an inability to follow the county's administrative code. Specifically, the suspension letter reads that reprimands were issued July 10 and Oct. 2, 2008, and May 12, 2010. The violations identified during those incidents included unsatisfactory attitude, use of abusive or obscene language, discourtesy to the public or a fellow employee and an accumulation of minor infractions.

The letter also notes that under the new administrative code adopted July 1 that the county judge could suspend employees for 30 days for either disciplinary reasons or while investigating charges or allegations against an employee.

Wooldridge signed the suspension letter to acknowledge that he had received it.

In light of Wooldridge's dismissal, Gribbins and Turpin will take over the animal control officer's duties for the time being, Judge Mattingly said.

Plans to resign

The magistrates made their decision the same day that Wooldridge had submitted a resignation letter to the county. According to the letter, Wooldridge intended to resign effective July 21. In his resignation letter, Wooldridge noted that the animal control officer's job was difficult.

"Gentlemen, this is a very tough job, way more demanding than I had ever anticipated," he wrote.

He added that the animal shelter is now considered "animal friendly." At the same time, Wooldridge said it has became common for him to run into people who had a problem with him or the shelter because of some legal action taken against them. He added that even during his off time, people would call him and drop off animals at his farm.

Wooldridge added that as a lifelong county resident, it was hard dealing with people he has known much of his life, particularly when those people were not being responsible pet owners.

He added that euthanizing animals also creates another kind of stress. The lack of spaying and neutering contributed to the problem.

"You combine all of the factors along with the stress associated with being a Department Head; I'm personally no longer able to give 100 percent to my job," Wooldridge wrote to the magistrates.

He thanked the magistrates and the judge for giving him the opportunity to serve the county.

Wooldridge reiterated many of those same ideas in a written statement to the Enterprise. (To read the full statement, see page A7 or the opinion section on the web site).

He wrote about the difficulties of the job, but he also talked about the changes at the shelter including improving the adoption rate, participation in community events, assistance from volunteers and physical improvements at the shelter.

He added that he wished nothing but the best for the current staff at the animal shelter, and he urged county residents to remain supportive of the shelter.

"I strongly encourage the public to continue supporting the Animal Shelter and to do your part as a responsible pet owner," Wooldridge wrote.