Berne DCO appointment delayed yet again as town mulls changes to position

— Photo from Cheryl Baitsholts

Cheryl Baitsholts, Berne’s former dog control officer, stands with a dog she helped rescue at Thacher Park. 

BERNE — For the third month in a row, the Berne Town Board failed to appoint a dog-control officer, a post left vacant after Jodi Jansen resigned on short notice in April.

The board has even gone so far as to complicate its search by floating ideas on how to change the way the office works: perhaps changing the pay structure from a fixed salary to an hourly per-call basis, hiring two officers instead of one, and/or reforming the dog control position as one focused on general animal control. 

All this is occurring while Cheryl Baitsholts, who had been the town’s dog-control officer for nearly two decades before Jansen’s surprise appointment on Jan. 1, 2020, remains a candidate for the position, raising questions about whether the board is behaving ethically in deferring appointment to a position that must, by New York State law, be filled, especially since the board has never given a solid reason for not re-appointing Baitsholts.

“Towns must have a DCO on staff to be in compliance with Agriculture and Markets law,” Jola Szubielski, director of public information for New York State Agriculture and Markets told The Enterprise. “Alternatively, an [animal-control officer] could perform the duties of a DCO, which would be acceptable.

“It is up to the towns to notify the Department of DCO staffing issues,” she said.  “The Department will reach out to the town to remind the town it is out of compliance with the position vacant, and encourage them to appoint a DCO as soon as possible.”

As of the board’s regular monthly meeting on July 14, two candidates have applied for the position: Baitsholts and Dexter Baker, who is the dog-control officer for the town of Broome, in Schoharie County. 

At the July meeting, Councilman Joel Willsey, the lone Democrat on the board, accused Deputy Supervisor Dennis Palow, a Republican, of lying about contacting Baker for an interview ahead of the meeting. Palow insisted at the meeting that he had spoken with Baker in the days before the meeting.

Willsey restates his allegation against Palow in a letter to the Enterprise editor this week, supplying text messages from Baker sent the day before the meeting stating that he had not been interviewed by any member of the town board except Willsey. 

Baker could not be reached by The Enterprise for further verification, and Palow did not respond to repeated requests for proof that he spoke with Baker. 

Ultimately, the board rejected a motion made by Palow and seconded by Supervisor Sean Lyons to hire both Baker and Baitsholts, with Baitsholts serving in an alternate capacity. 

Although not formally part of the motion, Palow indicated during the meeting that an important aspect of the two-officer setup would be dropping the $4,000 annual salary attached to the position and establishing an hourly rate of $19 administered on a per-call basis, citing the low number of calls that dog-control officers allegedly receive in the town. 

The Enterprise has previously attempted to get a sense of how many calls Berne dog-control officers respond to, but officers are not required to keep logs of calls and Town Clerk Anita Clayton said that a Freedom of Information Law request for mileage vouchers filed by Baitsholts and Jansen could not be fulfilled. 

Willsey was critical of the compensation proposal, arguing that, regardless of call quantity, the officers are expected to be on indefinite standby. 

After the meeting, Lyons told The Enterprise that he is not against Baitsholts serving in the position, but wants there to be changes to the role and procedures.

“Dennis and I were prepared to hire Cheryl in a dual role this past Wednesday, the other board members voted no,” Lyons wrote in an email. “Prior to me being on board (past Tuesday) with the dual role I was ready to hire Cheryl back as DCO with some stipulations such as hourly pay per call and using Knox Kennels for boarding, not a residence.”

Baitsholts, who is also a dog-control officer in the town of Rensselaerville, where she lives, used to house Berne dogs in her state-approved home-kennel. After she was let go in 2020, Berne had to scramble to figure out what to do with stray dogs, settling on an arrangement with the town of Knox, which has non-residential kennels. Dogs are housed in crates set up in a shed in the town park.

According to New York State Agriculture and Markets guidance for towns, “Municipalities may choose to lease kennel space at a veterinary clinic, a boarding facility, or the residence of another municipality’s dog control officer.”

At the July 14 meeting, the town board also briefly discussed the value of elevating the dog-control position to one of animal control, which town board member Bonnie Conklin said could be a benefit given the presence of deer and other wildlife in rural Berne.

 

 

 

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