Stephen Finch never intended to take a leadership position when he was voted onto the Corinne T. Smith Animal Center board just under two months ago.
And he didn’t set out to be a spokesman for roughly half of a divided board.
The 45-year-old Brownwood resident has found himself in those positions after controversy and discord have threatened to eclipse the mission of the 30-year-old animal shelter. The controversy has diminished the amount of funds coming in from vital donors, chased off most of the volunteers on whom the shelter heavily depends and drawn Brownwood city officials into the fray.
After finding himself at odds with Debra Dixon, who was appointed board president during a rancorous board meeting on Dec. 16, Finch said he had a “productive, civil conversation” Friday afternoon with Dixon and her husband, Bob, also a board member.
Some, including Finch, have called for Dixon to step down or be removed as board president.
Friday’s conversation with the Dixons “showed promise of a resolution to come,” Finch said. “It was a productive conversation.” He declined to elaborate.
Debra Dixon has not responded to requests by the Bulletin for comment.
The next board meeting is 6 p.m. Wednesday and Finch has not withdrawn his request to have several items added to the agenda for that meeting. Those items include a review of the shelter’s bylaws and mission statement and a discussion of Finch’s earlier letter to the board, in which he requested that Dixon resign from the board.
“The agenda items are still there but they may not be needed,” Finch said, again declining to elaborate.
Finch said he has no doubt that the Dixons care about the animals at the shelter.
“We’re all wanting the animals taken care of in a humane fashion,” Finch said. He said he can’t disagree with anything written in a letter to the editor by Jeff Smith, the son of the shelter’s founder, Corinne T. Smith. The letter, which was published recently in the Bulletin, was critical of the way the shelter is being governed following the Dec. 16 board meeting.
Finch also said he can’t disagree with a series of Facebook posts by former director Freda Day that were critical of the shelter’s current leadership.
Finch can pinpoint the day he first became involved with the shelter.
It was Dec. 18, and Finch had just been laid off from his job as a documentation adviser and electronic medial records specialist for a medical organization, a job that allowed him to work from home. He’s since found a new job. Veronica Finch works as a nurse in a dialysis center.
On Dec. 18, Finch saw a Facebook call for volunteers at the animal shelter and decided to go. Finch and his wife began volunteering, and Dixon asked both to consider applying to be on the board.
“Initially with Debra, I was 100 percent backing everything that she did,” Finch said. “However things were not done in the right manner and protocol was not followed. Once I questioned everything that I thought might not be above board or right, my relationship with Debra declined really fast.”
Finch began seeing the fallout of the Dec. 16 board meeting, when new members were voted onto the board and Dixon was voted in as president. With new members holding votes, shelter director Carren Bowden was fired. Butch Lawson was appointed in January as the director.
“I’ve heard it referred to as a lot of different things – as a coup, as a board takeover,” Finch told Brownwood City Council members at their Tuesday meeting. “The board shifted. Old board members were kicked. New board members were voted on and everything changed on Dec. 16.”
At Tuesday’s packed city council meeting, numerous speakers told council members they believe issues including overcrowding, cleanliness, severe drainage issues, a reluctance to euthanize animals that aren’t adopted and a looming financial crisis aren’t being addressed.
Finch said he understands the reluctance to euthanize animals. “Nobody wants to euthanize,” Finch said. “Nobody does.”
Former animal shelter director Day, one of several speakers at the council meeting, addressed the topic of euthanizing animals. “When I walked out there recently it has struck me that many of the dogs don’t really seem adoptable for one reason or another,” Day said.
“Rescue dogs almost never take large dogs that have any kind of issues. So those dogs just sit there month after month in a little kennel with no hope of getting out. In my opinion it would be much more humane for them to be gently euthanized. No-kill, as a future goal – I don’t know whether we can get there.
“It’s a good goal. That’s just not what this shelter is, and while that can be a great goal, and everything should be done to make it go that way, it’s not feasible. You have to euthanize.”
Mayor Stephen Haynes noted at Tuesday’s council meeting that there were issues with the shelter and with Bowden’s management prior to Dec. 16. “So it’s not as easy as saying ‘we’re going to reinstate the old board,’” Haynes said. “This is a complicated issue.”
Haynes said the city can’t control the shelter’s board, but the city does have control over its lease with the shelter to operate on city property and over the money the city allocates to the shelter each year.
Council members directed City Attorney Pat Chesser to write a letter to the board saying it has 60 days to address issues or face possible sanctions pertaining to the lease and city funding. The letter is expected to be completed and sent to the board Monday.