, Corbin, KY

December 5, 2008

Animal shelter director fired

Termination leads several board members to resign

By Samantha Swindler / Managing Editor

After being presented with evidence of her alleged financial misconduct, board members of the Knox-Whitley Animal Shelter held a special meeting Wednesday and voted to fire shelter director Amy Young. Since then, three board members have resigned from the board, and a fourth said he is considering leaving.

The meeting was held Wednesday at the Princess McBurney Center in Corbin with board members Marion Forcht, Lori Keck, Nicole Moore, Richard Mandell, Devonna Durham, Sandy Hill and President Barbara Storms attending.

According to Mandell and Moore, five voted to terminate Young, with Moore abstaining and Mandell voting against the motion.

Young, who attended only parts of the meeting, said she was told by Mandell that she had been fired but had not been notified by the president of the board. She said she would be seeking the advice of an attorney.

Young said she was accused of stealing dogs to sell for her own profit, but denied the accusations. She said she was accused of stealing cash deposits, but said the money from deposits was used for shelter expenses such as vehicle gas.

“There were numerous accusations, and many documents and bills and invoices and things shown and all sorts of very lurid accusations,” Mandell said of the meeting. “After much of this stuff, they had a vote. I said I think you ought to confront Amy, who has her own corroborating documents, to see if they match up and see if there’s a reason for this... I said I can’t vote without giving her a chance to say what the other side of this is... I have found Amy to be hardworking and honest and she did the best she could with what she had to work with in operating the shelter.”

Mandell resigned from the board Thursday, writing, “in the board’s zeal to terminate Amy without any preparation for the aftermath, its sleazy methods, and violation of its own ethics code, I find that I no longer wish to be associated with the board, (and) want no part of defending the board in any legal action that may be taken against it arising from this episode...”

Sandy Hill voted to terminate Young, but said Thursday that she was resigning from the board effective immediately because of “how it was handled.”

Nicole Moore joined the board in August 2007 but said she tenured her resignation Thursday. She had originally notified the board in November that she would leave at the end of the year, but decided after Wednesday’s meeting to resign immediately.

“I just wasn’t comfortable with some ways things were handled and the way they went about doing some things, and I just didn’t want to be associated with that,” Moore said. “They did ask her (Young) about a couple of things that they had questions about and she verbally disputed and denied all the charges, but she wasn’t given the opportunity to prove it. The evidence that was presented was pretty much one person’s word against Amy and there was no substantiating evidence, and I really think she should have been given the opportunity to defend herself before action was taken.”

Board member Wayne Wilson, who is appointed to the board by the Whitley County Fiscal Court, did not attend the meeting, but said he likely would have abstained from voting on the matter.

He said he didn’t know in advance what the meeting would be about, and said he too was considering leaving the board.

Board President Barbara Storms could not be reached by phone Thursday, but in an e-mail comment sent to media and board members, wrote, “This decision was made due to ongoing problems in the shelter’s management over the past several months. In October, Ms. Young was given a list of concerns that she was to meet prior to her year-end review. Several of these concerns were not met, and others were not addressed at all.”

“She knows the reasons why she was let go,” said board member Lori Keck. “There were several things that were going on that we have taken care of.”

When asked who was currently working at the shelter, Keck said, “We have not replaced her, and that’s all that I’ll say at this point.”

A trip to the animal shelter confirmed it was open Thursday, and that two employees were working there — Lauren Patterson and Arick Hill.

Patterson said she had not been appointed director, but she had applied for the job.

“They have found lots of evidence regarding stealing from the shelter, not paying vet bills, not taking care of animals,” Patterson said, adding that, “I brought the information necessary to the board members that needed it.”

Patterson said she provided the board on Wednesday with receipts alleging that Young, among other things, purchased a comforter set and made home repairs with shelter money.

“We got rid of the garbage,” Patterson said.

The Times-Tribune has requested copies of the receipts which allegedly show Young had made personal purchases with shelter money, but has not yet received a response to the request.

Additionally, police were called to the shelter Thursday morning and handcuffed employee Rodney Woolum after accusations by Patterson that he was trying to take checkbooks from the shelter. No one was arrested. Woolum could not be reached for comment.

Young had been the director since July of last year and has denied all allegations against her. Last November, Young, Hill and Patterson had all been rehired after the three either resigned or were fired for a brief period — a controversy that ended with the resignation of former board president Debbie Wright. Wright has since been indicted on forgery and theft charges in connection to an alleged unemployment scam involving the shelter.

At the time of the original firings, Young claimed she was fired for refusing to terminate Patterson, though Wright maintained Young had resigned.

Hill was later terminated, and started his first day back at the shelter on Thursday. Hill said he had been hired by board member Devonna Durham, who could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Patterson had resigned about the time Hill was fired, but was then rehired a time later.

Moore said the board’s regularly scheduled meeting is set for Monday, and remaining board members are expected to elect new members. She said she knew some of the people being considered for board membership and felt they would be assets if selected.

“I really have mixed feelings about leaving the board because I feel like I’m letting the community and the animals down, but I just felt like it was time for me to go,” Moore said. “I’d like to see them get it together and get back on their feet. I wish them the best.”

The Knox-Whitley Animal Shelter is a private, non-profit organization which was funded through bingo revenues when it opened. Having since lost a time slot at the bingo hall, it is now almost wholly supported by local government agencies in Whitley, Knox and McCreary counties and, as such, many of its records are available for public inspection through the Open Records Act.