Knox will shelter Berne strays for time being

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

Knox’s kennel underwent renovations not long after Supervisor Vasilios Lefkaditis took office in 2016. Lefkaditis joked at the July 14 town board meeting that the need to shelter town dogs diminished once the lengthy renovation process was completed. The town had previously housed dogs at the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society in Menands, which charges several hundred dollars in weekly fees.

BERNE — Berne now has an official place to shelter any lost dogs wrangled by its dog-control officer, Jody Jansen, following Knox’s authorization of a shared shelter agreement that allows Jansen to use the kennels in Knox’s park maintenance building. 

Berne has no local shelter available as it awaits renovations to its Switzkill Farm kennel. In the meantime, the town relied on the goodwill of Knox Supervisor Vasilios Lefkaditis, who told The Enterprise this week that Knox would have welcomed any Berne dogs to its kennels prior to the agreement.

“We would never turn away our neighbors to the south,” Lefkaditis said. “We have, and continue to look forward to, a good working relationship with them.”

Berne Supervisor Sean Lyons told The Enterprise this week that Jansen has not needed to shelter any dogs this year.

Dog control in Berne has been a point of controversy, spawned from the town board’s sudden appointment of Jansen on Jan. 1, ousting former dog-control officer Cheryl Baitsholts, who held the position for more than 12 years. 

The position of dog-control officer is protected under Civil Service Law, which holds that certain employees cannot be removed from their positions without cause, Deputy Personnel Director for the Albany County Department of Civil Service David Walker told The Enterprise in January.

No complaints were made against Baitsholts by the town board, nor was a hearing regarding Baitsholts’s performance held prior to Jansen’s appointment.

At the same Jan. 1 meeting, Emily Vincent was demoted from her post as a planning board member to alternate status, making room for former judge and convicted felon Thomas Spargo to be named chairman. Vincent filed an Article 78 against the town, used by citizens to challenge government actions..

This can be a costly process, though, and Baitsholts has said she does not wish to file. 

Aided by substantial monetary donations from those sympathetic to her cause, Vincent won the challenge in March and was reinstated to the planning board, and Spargo was removed, but she expressed that the ordeal was exhausting.

In addition to the legal quagmires, many residents were angry that Baitsholts, who has frequently been described as compassionate and dedicated to the well-being of animals and their owners, was released from the position without warning; some felt that Jansen, who appears to have no background in animal care, is a poor fit for the job. 

Just two months into Jansen’s tenure, Berne resident Sarah Stonesifer complained that Jansen treated her aggressively after she took in a starved and wounded dog that wandered onto her property.

“[Jansen] threatened to come to my house and forcefully take this dog, which he has no proof is even on my property,” Stonesifer told The Enterprise in February. “And when I refused and informed him he is not welcome on my property, which is posted, he threatened to call the police and have them forcefully enter my home.”

Lyons called Stonesifer shortly after the incident to apologize for Jansen’s behavior. 

Jansen himself has been unreachable by The Enterprise since his appointment, with the exception of one phone call in January, during which Jansen told the paper that his lawyer advised him not to answer any questions. 

Residents have also argued that Baitsholts saved the town money by keeping dogs in her own kennel in Rensselaerville, where she lives. Baitsholts charged $15 per dog per day, far cheaper than the more than $500 the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society charges towns like Westerlo per week of shelter, which breaks down to more than $50 per day.

The Knox/Berne agreement states that Knox will charge the town of Berne a $25 impound fee, and $25 for each day a dog is sheltered.

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More Hilltowns News

  • A state audit has revealed that Knox Town Clerk Traci Schanz failed to deposit more than 300 fee collections within the legally required timeframes and made reporting errors that left the town with an unremitted cash balance of more than $3,000, according to a report from the Office of the New York State Comptroller. Schanz said she is grateful for what she learned from the audit and new procedures have been put in place.

  • The Berne Town Board has spent more than $15,000 on investigations according to documents received by The Enterprise through a Freedom of Information Law request. All the investigations appear to have been of Democratic town board members. One recently led to a censure by partisan vote; the others were unsubstantiated.

  • Berne’s town attorney Javid Afzali informed the town board at its July 22 meeting that the controversial Switzkill Farm property may have been acquired illegally because the 2014 town board did not allow for a permissive referendum following the purchase authorization. Then-supervisor Kevin Crosier tells The Enterprise that no referendum was required.

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