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Sheriff to assume reigns of animal control in Berkeley Co.

September 08, 2006|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Berkeley County leaders have not complied with the literal interpretation of West Virginia statutes guiding the supervision of animal control operations for a number of years, the county commission's legal counsel said Thursday.

"I think they're in compliance with the code now," Norwood Bentley said in an interview after County Commissioners Howard L. Strauss, Steven C. Teufel and Ronald K. Collins decided to allow Sheriff W. Randy Smith to oversee the department, effective immediately.

According to state code section 7-10-1, "the sheriff of each county ... shall annually designate, by a record made in the office of the clerk of the county commission, one of his or her deputies to act as humane officer of the county."

A county dog warden also could be designated to act as the humane officer if the sheriff and commission agree, according to state code.

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"County commissions in the past have chosen not to read it so literally," said Bentley, noting court decisions since the code was adopted had allowed room for interpretation. "For some time, the county commission felt it should take over the operation. The humane officer by statute is the sheriff."

County Administrator Deborah E. Hammond said Thursday that she and Human Resources Director Alan Davis carried out the department's administrative duties since June 30, chief animal control officer Larry Light's last day on the job. That workload included determining work schedules for animal control officers, time sheets, handling complaints and approving supply purchases.

Smith approached county leaders about assuming responsibility for the department after Light's position was advertised. The sheriff said Thursday that on many occasions, a deputy had to accompany Light and other animal control officers to execute the law enforcement aspect of the department's responsibilities, such as animal cruelty cases.

The county had budgeted $36,381 for the chief animal control officer post, but could have paid Light's replacement even more, depending on qualifications, Hammond said.

Smith sees the restructuring as an opportunity to hire an additional deputy.

"It will be done right," Smith said after the commission meeting.

Smith told the commissioners he did not believe the position would consume all of the assigned deputy's time.

When asked, Bentley said he didn't know of any litigation pending against Animal Control, but noted the department had been "troubled" for some time and lacked consistency in carrying out its duties.

The commission's vote to approve to shift animal control duties to Smith comes at a time when the sheriff already is challenged with having enough court security officers trained for the new judicial center and training newly hired deputies.

Eight of 13 sheriff's deputies recently hired will begin training Monday at the West Virginia State Police Academy, and nine court security officers are expected to be trained for their duties beginning Oct. 16. The grand opening of the building is set for Oct. 6.

"I still have seven deputies to hire," Smith said.

Smith said he canceled vacation and leave time for his department in October to accommodate the transition.

"We'll just have to grin and bear it," Smith said.

The county commission on Thursday also approved a plan to hire 10 part-time court security staff to ensure there is adequate staff for the judicial center. The county now employs 18 court security personnel, and the commission has approved staffing the judicial center with eight deputies.

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