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Thursday, 14 March 2013 12:43

Fur Flies Over Potential County Animal Shelter Appointment

By Patricia Older | News

BALLSTON SPA – Citing they feel it is a political appointment for the child of a major campaign contributor, volunteers who have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations for Saratoga County’s Animal Shelter have pledged to withdraw their support if the Board of Supervisors moves forward next week to appoint 22-year-old Christina Abele to the $62,000-a-year supervisory position. 

 

The board is poised to hire Christine Abele at their March 19th meeting. Abele is the daughter of Chris Abele, a family partner in Abele Builders and a major Republican Party campaign contributor. 

Carol Lang, who started the Busy Bones 500 several years ago as a way to raise money for the shelter, said the organization would not donate another penny if the county goes forward with their decision to give the $62,413-a-year job, “plus excellent benefits,” to Abele. 

“I have nothing personally against her and I am not saying she does not deserve a job, what I am against is that she has absolutely no supervisory experience and this is a supervisor’s job responsible for a $800,000 budget,” said Lang. “Think about it, how many 22-year-olds can budget their own checkbooks, much less a budget of $800,000.”

The position entails the administration of an $830,000 budget, the oversight of 13 employees and 340 volunteers and the care and adoption of hundreds of animals that pass through its doors. 

The committee responsible for screening and interviewing the candidates were Personnel Officer Jack Kalinkewicz, Charlton Supervisor and County Board Chair Alan Grattidge, Wilton Supervisor Art Johnson and Halfmoon Supervisor Mindy Wormuth.  Abele has donated thousands of dollars over the last several years to the Republican coffers, including money for Wormuth’s and Grattidge’s elections. 

Lang said she feels the committee did not seriously consider some other, more qualified candidates, including ones recommended by out-going supervisor Dan Butler. 

“Dan recommended three very qualified shelter employees,” said Lang. “Not only did they not consider them qualified after years and years as employees and experience, they did not consult with him about their choice.”  

Those three employees – Kelly Devall (22 years,) Leta Wells (20 years,) and Ryan Dreher (18 years) – were interviewed, but Grattidge said Abele was the only one who came into the interview with a future plan for the shelter. 

“Christina came in very confident and she presented herself very well,” said Grattidge. “She was the only one who had taken the time to study our budget and came in with an action plan.”

Lang feels Abele was coached for the interview. 

“I believe this is a political appointment,” said Lang. “Someone told her what to do and what to expect at the interview. I feel even the job qualifications in the posting were tailored to her.”

Pointing out that nowhere in the posting does it call for supervisory experience, Lang said she has filed a Freedom of Information request for Abele’s resume and those of the top 10. Sixty-two people applied for the position and 10 were interviewed. 

“Don’t you think having experience as a supervisor should be one of the requirements?” she asked. 

Abele is a recent graduate of Siena College and has been a volunteer dog walker at the shelter since 2010. She also organizes some of their adoption clinics in Clifton Park. 

“This is totally unfair to the other applicants who have years and years of experience and degrees, not to mention training,” said Lang. “This job starts out at $62,413 and I think it should be somebody who has come up through the ranks, not a political appointment.”

Friends of the Saratoga County Animal Shelter president Sandy D’Ambrio said her organization is also upset about the appointment.

Noting that while Butler had also started in the position when he was 22, it was a different world and different organization 35 years ago. 

“The shelter was a small and relatively simple operation,” said D’Ambrio. ”Dan developed the shelter from just a temporary warehouse into the complex humane institution it has become.”

Continuing, she said that while she has nothing personal against Abele, she feels her inexperience is a detriment to the future of the animal shelter. 

“Christina has no experience in managing personnel, budgets, veterinary services, volunteer programs and public relations at a large county animal shelter like ours,” said D’Ambrio. “She is a recent graduate of Siena Collage where she majored in business learning skills to successfully interview for a position.”

Lang said she was already concerned Abele will retaliate against some of the employees for not supporting the decision to hire her. 

“I was told that [Abele] has already gone into human resources and inquired about how to terminate employees,” said Lang. “And the position is not even official yet.”

Both Lang and D’Ambrio said that if the board of supervisors move forward with appointing Abele, neither would raise another penny for the animal shelter. 

Lang, whose Busy Bones 500 has donated over $45,000 to the shelter in recent years, said her efforts would stop immediately. 

“I won’t donate another penny,” said Lang, adding that she just would like the supervisors to slow down and review the applicants again. 

“I would like to see it reposted with clearer qualifications,” said Lang. 

D’Ambrio agreed, noting that she too, would not raise any more money for the shelter, adding, “Friends of the Saratoga County Animal Shelter are concerned that the supervisors are not acting in the best interests of the taxpayers, the shelter and most importantly, the homeless animals. This is not an indictment against this young woman, but if she is the best candidate of those interviewed, the search needs to continue until someone with more on-the-ground experience is found.”

The Saratoga County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to make a decision at their March 19 meeting. The meeting will be held in the board room at the Saratoga County Administration Building on McMaster Street in Ballston Spa at 4 p.m.

 

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