By JOHN SCOTT COOPER, Staff Writer
With eight unsmiling faces of Okefenokee Humane Society (OHS) volunteers and board members staring at them, members of the Waycross City Commission voted 3-1 to authorize the filing of a petition “for accounting and temporary restraining order against” the humane society.
And, thus, begins the writing of yet another chapter in the never-ending, misguided feud between the city and the humane society.
City Commissioner Marian Solomon-Gaines was not present at the Monday afternoon meeting. Commissioner Diane Hopkins voted against the motion. Voting for the motion and assuring its passage were Commissioners Jon Tindall, John Threat and Norman Davis.
No explanation was given. Mayor John Knox told the audience that “the judge” had ordered the city officials to not address the issue publicly.
That left hanging in the air questions asked by a couple of interested parties, one of whom is Dr. Craig Kubik, a husband of a humane society board member.
“I don’t understand this; is the humane society not cooperating?” Kubik asked prior to the resolution being read and the vote taken. “Why drag this into the courts? Why get attorneys involved and causing the expense? This just seems to be the power of government acting against its citizens.”
That was when the mayor informed the group that city officials could not explain their actions, under the order of the judge.
Kubik then warned the commissioners that they might have trouble “getting volunteers to work with the city in the future,” after seeing the example of how volunteers of the humane society were treated.
Sandy Keeler, also speaking for the humane society, chastised the mayor and commissioners for “not standing up to a troublemaker …” — and then was halted by Knox, who rapped his gavel and informed her that the commission does not allow personal attacks in the meetings, believing she was referring to Threat, who has been at the forefront of calling attention to the financial reporting failures of the organization under its contract with the city.
Keeler concluded her remarks by saying she feels the humane society is being attacked. She indicated that she is incredulous that the mayor is allowing — even bringing — the attack, yet she is not allowed to speak against it.
For weeks, the city and humane society have been in a conflict after Threat, Tindall and Davis, supported by Knox, pushed to get financial reports from OHS (which they were supposed to have submitted every month). Apparently, nobody had asked for the reports or even wondered why they had not been delivered before Threat took office in January.
It was alleged by Keeler that Threat misguidedly took up the fight because his niece was arrested on animal cruelty charges, even though the humane society is not in charge of animal control, city officers are.
After submitting a financial report and still feeling that it was under attack by dissatisfied commissioners, the OHS board voted to stop operating the animal shelter.
The city and county have since begun separate animal shelter operations.
Meanwhile, the commission authorized a joint resolution with the Ware County Commission to request that the attorney general remove the regional T-SPLOST referendum from the county’s May 22 ballot. The vote was a unanimous 4-0 to urge removal from the May ballot the issue the county did not request — that was “imposed upon us,” Davis said.
Maddox said the attorney general had postponed ruling until after the May ballot on whether Ware County would have to vote on the referendum or whether county taxpayers would have to pay an additional 1 percent tax if the region voters approved it.
“We’ve asked him for clarification of the law under which they can do this,” Knox said. “So far, we haven’t been shown any such law.”
Commissioners also voted to authorize City Attorney Rick Currie to sign a contract with Harper & Company Builders, of Douglas, to build the new Fire Station No. 4 on Haines Avenue.