published Saturday, July 19th, 2014

Bradley County commissioner blasts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals' board

Lucky, a pit bull mix, receives love and attention from Carlos Wagner, a regular volunteer at the shelter operated by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Bradley County.
Lucky, a pit bull mix, receives love and attention from Carlos Wagner, a regular volunteer at the shelter operated by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Bradley County.
Photo by Paul Leach.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. — The abrupt resignation of a member of the board of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Bradley County has fueled controversy surrounding the organization.

On Thursday, Josh Serum, secretary for the SPCA board, emailed his resignation letter to fellow board members after the publication of a Times Free Press story in which he admitted to remotely accessing the organization's animal shelter computer system. He did so using shelter director Bobbi Anderson's login to review animal intake and adoption data, Serum said.

In that story, Bradley County Commissioner Charlotte Peak-Jones, who serves as a county representative on the board along with Commissioner Mark Hall, had called for Serum's resignation.

"I fail to see why a board member wanting to see numbers is some sort of gross misconduct," said Serum, an information technology professional, in his resignation letter. "All board members should have access to this and should be free to look at any paperwork as well. We are the governing body."

Peak-Jones' response to Serum did not waver from her original position.

"The approach was illegal," she said. "The fact that you hacked into the system using someone else's login information without consent is the misconduct and against the law."

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. Serum was one of a number of users removed from the system in early June in the wake of turmoil involving members of Cleveland for A No-Kill City and other shelter volunteers.

Serum's use of Anderson's login occurred shortly after SPCA board President Betti Gravelle had been asked by Peak-Jones to step back and let Anderson oversee the shelter, SPCA officials said.

Before that, Gravelle had made a failed attempt by proxy email vote to oust shelter volunteers who she said had "alienated" No-Kill members.

Proxy votes were not allowed according to board bylaws, said treasurer Jack Burke.

"It is appalling that the board doesn't take the sanctity and the power of the board as a whole seriously," Peak-Jones said. "I have never been involved in an organization where so many individuals want to act as individuals and not as a team."

A list of grievances made by Serum against shelter management and facility conditions -- based on reports he said he received -- also drew fire from Peak-Jones.

"The slander that Ms. Bobbi Andersen has endured is the most appalling," Peak-Jones said. "She is doing an outstanding job, and I cannot say enough about her calmness and professionalism when she is attacked daily."

A recent surprise welfare check conducted by Cleveland Animal Control found the conditions at the shelter acceptable.

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

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