Issue February 9, 2011

New dog, new tricks

In Zelinsky’s wake, incoming Metro Animal Services director faces big challenges

After serving a little more than a year as the city’s top dog-catcher, Louisville Metro Animal Services Interim Director Wayne Zelinsky resigned last week following revelations that he operated a business promoting adult entertainment with his wife, Pamela, effectively capstoning a Metro government career riddled with allegations of mismanagement, sexual harassment and employee intimidation.

At a press conference last week, Mayor Greg Fischer announced Zelinsky was stepping down, and MetroSafe Deputy Director Debbie Fox, who has worked for local government since 1982, was replacing him immediately.

Fischer confirmed the extra-governmental business, Derby City VIP, was the topic of a conversation he had with Zelinsky that led to the outgoing director’s resignation less than 24 hours after news of it first appeared on The Ville Voice blog.

“We advised Wayne … that we were aware of a website that he had up and running, and we discussed that with him, and he came in this morning and resigned,” Fischer said on Feb. 2. “The point is that he is running an operation outside of what his normal, day-to-day operation is. We just brought it to his attention, and we told him we need to discuss it with him, and he decided to resign.”

In a brief interview with LEO Weekly the evening before his resignation, Zelinsky confirmed that he and his wife were involved with the business, which offered limousine and security services with a focus on adult entertainment. The business is no longer in service.

“It was my wife’s idea,” Zelinsky said. “(The business) was something she wanted to do. She didn’t know (how to set the business up), so I had to do it for her.”

This marks the second time in as many years that a director of LMAS has resigned amid a firestorm of criticism: In late 2009, Zelinsky’s predecessor and former boss, Gilles Meloche, stepped down after allegations of sexual harassment and other improprieties became too much to bear. Former Mayor Jerry Abramson appointed Zelinsky on Jan. 1, 2010.

Barbara Haines, a member of the Louisville Kennel Club and outspoken critic of LMAS, believes Fox will be a good placeholder until a new full-time director is chosen. In April, an eight-person national selection committee headed by Sadiqa Reynolds, Mayor Fischer’s chief of community building, will conduct the search.

“Honestly, her job will be to try and keep the Dismas workers from stripping the place down to the walls,” Haines says, “and to just keep the warfare down to a minimum.” The workers she is referring to are from Dismas Charities, a halfway house that runs a job placement program for criminal offenders.

Some employees are ecstatic over the regime change.

“It’s only one step, but it’s a humongous first step,” says an employee who spoke with LEO Weekly on the condition of anonymity. “For the people who had a different opinion about Wayne, they are not very happy about it. I don’t have any expectations for Debbie in the sense that it’s not her job to come in and make any sweeping changes … but if she can just come in and somehow wrap her head around everything … and look through the policies and procedures we already have in place and get people to follow those, then it will be extraordinarily better.”

Jessica Reid, an LMAS volunteer and president of the zero-euthanasia and animal rescue group No-Kill Louisville, believes the most immediate priorities Fox faces are cleaning up the shelter, implementing a management structure that was virtually nonexistent under Zelinsky, and resuming adoptions at the agency’s 3705 Manslick Road shelter.

“They’re cutting off (potential adopters) by sending them somewhere else,” Reid says, referring to the practice of restricting adoptions to LMAS’ new Animal House facility, which opened in December 2010. “It doesn’t make any sense. Let people adopt them wherever they can.”

However, Reid already commends Fox on a newfound sense of openness with her group and others that have been critical of the agency and its outgoing director.

“The most important thing is to help these animals and keep the public safe,” she says. “To me, it was asinine to just cut (us) off like that” after speaking publicly about the agency’s mismanagement, which she feels should have been the cause for Zelinsky’s resignation, as opposed to “a little T&A”

“All of these other things — mismanagement, employee intimidation, killing animals — that Zelinsky did don’t matter,” Reid says. “But a website testing our moral fiber? It’d be funny if it weren’t so sad.”

To Fox’s credit, she is new to the problems that have festered at LMAS for nearly six years and across two directors, and as such, she considers herself a “steward of the agency” who plans to implement best-practices as soon as possible.

“I think we need to establish an organization and work on our public service skills,” Fox tells LEO Weekly. “Quite obviously, my goal is to make sure there’s a lot of dedicated, professional folks that work for Metro Animal Services, and I need an opportunity to get some resources and be in a position to do some good things.”

Fox says the agency’s 45 year-old Manslick Road shelter could “definitely use some cosmetic work,” adding that replacing the outdated air filtration system — which contributes to bacterial and viral infections among the animal population — is one of many changes “on quite a long list (of changes), to be frank.”

“I think that most people want to step up and do the right thing,” Fox continues. “I haven’t run into any controversy where they weren’t willing to cooperate. I think they realize that I’m an interim, and that my goal is to make things better than the way I found them. And I think, too, to be honest with you, most people don’t care what you know until they know how much you care, so I think this is my opportunity to show them that I do care, and I have their best interests at heart.”