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Examiner
  • Council OKs changes to animal shelter amended agreement

  • The amendment, including all of the additions separately discussed and approved, passed 5-2, with District 1 Member Marcie Gragg and District 2 Member Curt Dougherty opposed. It now goes back to the Jackson County Legislature for its vote, necessary before the new shelter can open its doors. The county has already approved a separate contract with the new shelter operator, the nonprofit Great Plains SPCA.

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  • Few items before the Independence City Council in recent years have received the amount of public discussion and deliberation as the new regional animal shelter.
    For nearly three hours Tuesday night, council members made changes upon changes to an amendment that Jackson County legislators approved in early December. Among the motions and votes were comments from citizens.
    The amendment, including all of the additions separately discussed and approved, passed 5-2, with District 1 Member Marcie Gragg and District 2 Member Curt Dougherty opposed. It now goes back to the Jackson County Legislature for its vote, necessary before the new shelter can open its doors. The county has already approved a separate contract with the new shelter operator, the nonprofit Great Plains SPCA.  
    By 8:40 p.m. Tuesday, District 3 Member Myron Paris made the motion to essentially end discussion on the final amendment before the council. That motion passed, 5-2, with Dougherty and District 4 Member Eileen Weir opposed.
    Less than five minutes of discussion took place on the final motion. Time and time again, Gragg said, she’s read the same question in emails from concerned citizens: Why are we (the city and the county) amending the agreement in the first place?
    Long before the final vote on the amendment, council members approved a series of changes that had been discussed last week. Those nine provisions include, among others, that the county would remain responsible for the operating costs of the shelter, including utility payments and building and grounds maintenance; the city would remain owner of the land that the shelter sits on; and free incinerator services would be used only for animals from Independence or unincorporated Jackson County.
    Council members discussed, at great length, four more additions to this latest amendment. All four were approved unanimously:
    – The county would reimburse the city for expenses totaling $44,746.50. Those costs took place when the city purchased items necessary to operate the new shelter, as had been outlined in the original 2009 contract. Expenses include a new computer system, a new security identification card system and utility improvements.
    – The city and county will form an Animal Welfare Committee to meet at least twice a year to address, among other topics, spay/neuter programs for household pets, charges of unethical treatment of animals and support for educational programs that promote the welfare and safety of animals.
    – The county will reimburse the city for up to three months of severance payments to part-time shelter employees who are slated to lose their jobs when the regional shelter opens, provided those employees aren’t hired by the new nonprofit shelter operator or within another city department.  
    Extensive discussion took place on this item, and City Manager Robert Heacock reiterated the city policy that prior to a reduction in force, employees receive 30-day notice and are considered for a transfer or rehire within a different department.
    Page 2 of 2 - “I want these people to have the opportunity to work for the city that hired them and that they wanted to work for,” Dougherty said.
    – Lastly, the provision was added that the facility will be named, simply, the Regional Animal Shelter. That paragraph states that neither the city or the county can unilaterally change the name or designation of the facility throughout the five-year agreement.
    Once those changes were voted to be included in the overall amendment, Dougherty made a motion for another change to take place. After a brief recess, council members voted to suspend Robert’s Rules of Order to allow the change to take place within the same paragraph of the agreement.
    The following addition passed 6-1, with Weir opposed: “The county guarantees to the city that animals delivered to the Regional Animal Shelter by residents of Independence will be accepted into the Regional Animal Shelter.”
    Prior to the council’s final vote, four citizens also commented. Those opposed to the amendment included Dr. Michael O’Brien, the current veterinarian contractor with the animal shelter, and Independence Advisory Board of Health members Dr. Howard Braby and Dr. Ralph Ruckman.
    Longtime Independence animal rescuer Kim Touzinsky spoke in favor of the shelter relocating to a new facility. An upcoming article in The Examiner will report on these citizens’ comments.
    In response to why the amendment was needed in the first place, some told Gragg: “It’s good for the animals.” Although she is proud owner of four shelter cats herself, Gragg said, “The animals didn’t vote to put me in office. ... It’s ultimately the question of ‘what is the most responsible thing for the citizens of Independence?’”
    Gragg praised city staff for the work put into incorporating changes into the amendment that was voted on, but she said the county still ought to honor the original agreement approved by both bodies nearly four years ago and that the city has risen to the challenge of operating a no-kill shelter.
    “Frankly, we’ve had animals sitting around in our tired little shelter for many, many more months than they needed to,” Gragg said. “If (the county) really wanted to do a favor to the animals, they’d let us in now, and let us care for the animals in a better, cleaner environment, where we can accept even more into our care than we have been.”
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