published Thursday, July 17th, 2014

Bradley County SPCA moving past disputes

Leighann Lassiter, Tennessee state director for the Humane Society of the United States, holds a puppy rescued from a puppy mill in Bradley County.
Leighann Lassiter, Tennessee state director for the Humane Society of the United States, holds a puppy rescued from a puppy mill in Bradley County.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. — A board member of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Bradley County has come under scrutiny for an alleged data breach of the organization's shelter computer system.

Josh Serum, an information technology professional and the SPCA board secretary, may be asked to resign in light of his recent admission to remotely logging into the computer by using shelter director Bobbi Anderson's login.

"I am appalled at his audacity to even admit that he did this," County Commissioner Charlotte Peak-Jones, one of two county representatives on the seven-person board, said in an email. The other county representative is Commissioner Mark Hall.

Peak-Jones said she would ask the board to request Serum's resignation.

At one time, a couple of dozen users had access to the shelter's animal tracking program, which records intake and adoption data, SPCA officials said after Tuesday's board meeting.

Serum said he was among several users who lost access to the shelter computers during turmoil between volunteer factions at the shelter in early June.

"I actually logged in as Bobbi so that I could see what [animal intake and adoption] numbers we were looking at," he said. "It wasn't any sort of data breach. I did it to maintain transparency with the board."

Serum made the admission after reviewing a document that purported to demonstrate remote hacking attempts.

"Not only is it unethical and inappropriate, but against the law," Peak-Jones said. "The board fully trusts the director, and have no idea why Josh Serum would have done this."

Serum's actions occurred a few days after board President Betti Gravelle, who also serves as the executive director of Dixie Day Spay, attempted to oust volunteers who she said had "alienated" other volunteers associated with Cleveland For a No-Kill City.

While she did not intend to demean the work of those operating the shelter, Gravelle said, it was the No-Kill City volunteers who moved animals out of the shelter and into homes. She asked the SPCA board in a June 6 email to approve removing the new volunteers.

The attempt was stopped after treasurer Jack Burke responded that a proxy vote was against the board's bylaws.

Peak-Jones soon told her to step away from "micromanaging" the shelter, Gravelle said.

On June 7, Beth Foster, media director for SPCA and No-Kill City group organizer, submitted her resignation effective July 1, citing workload concerns involving her responsibilities with a social justice organization.

SPCA officials said the turmoil has quieted down.

"We are quite stable now and actively building relationships with fosters and others to increase our adoptions," Anderson said.

Peak-Jones expressed support for Anderson.

"I believe Bobbi is doing a super job and is changing and implementing new policies as she feels needed based on new situations that occur," Peak-Jones said.

The SPCA of Bradley County provides animal sheltering services for all county residents under an $80,000 annual agreement with Bradley County.

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Contact him at paul.leach.press@gmail.com.

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