Baitsholts rejects Berne DCO position after board cuts pay

The Enterprise — Noah Zweifel
The Berne Town Board at its Aug. 25 meeting, where it appointed Cheryl Baitsholts as dog-control officer, nearly two years after removing her from the position without much explanation.

BERNE — Nearly two years after the Berne Town Board removed Cheryl Baitsholts from her Civil Service-protected job as dog-control officer in 2020, it voted, 4 to 1, to reinstate her, four months after her replacement suddenly resigned, leaving the town without a dog-control officer and in violation of New York State Agriculture and Markets Law. However, Baitsholts will reject the offer, she wrote in a letter to the Enterprise editor on Friday evening, owing to the changes the GOP-backed board made to the position after former dog-control officer Jodi Jansen’s resignation in April.

The most notable change is that, instead of a $4,000 salary, the town will pay $19 per hour in the daytime, and $24 per hour overnight, with hours logged as calls roll in. A motion to hire Baitsholts made earlier this month at a meeting attended by only three council members failed primarily because of this change in compensation, which Democratic board member Joel Willsey, who has been advocating for Baitsholts’s re-employment since her removal, said is inadequate.

Baitsholts said at the time that she supported Willsey’s vote.

Willsey voted no again at the Aug. 25 board meeting, while the GOP-backed town members all voted in favor.

At the meeting, Deputy Supervisor Dennis Palow read aloud questions Baitsholts had sent to him to be answered, such as whether the town had a dedicated veterinarian (it does not, and is not legally required to have one), where dogs would be sheltered (in Knox’s kennels), and how hours would be tracked (via paper log). 

Palow told the board and audience that he asked Baithsolts to attend the Aug. 25 meeting so he could deliver his responses in person, but she was out of town. He said at the meeting that he did not directly answer her questions for that reason. 

This is the close of a long saga involving the dog-control officer position in Berne, where after the town board removed Baitsholts — illegally, according to Deputy Personnel Director for the Albany County Department of Civil Service David Walker — it was subject to fierce criticism from residents in the town who felt Baitsholts was a shining example of local animal control for her dedication and empathy as she sought out lost pets. 

Jansen, meanwhile, had no known experience with animals and soon after his appointment he was accused of mistreating a resident who had invited a lost and wounded dog into her home. Over the next year-and-a-half, residents said that he was difficult to reach. All the while, Baitsholts said that residents would call her for help with their animal needs. 

Jansen resigned on short notice in April of this year, just before a dog was found in a ditch, shot nearly to death, creating confusion for the Albany County Sheriff’s Department, who were trying to reach him before contacting Baitsholts for assistance instead. 

The Berne Town Board, less Willsey, was strangely resistant to appointing Baitsholts again under the same terms that were in place when she was removed. Baitsholts was one of only two candidates, the other being Dexter Baker, a dog-control officer in Broome, New York (Schoharie County). The board initially wanted to hire Baker and Baitsholts together, under terms similar to the ones Baitsholts was offered this week, with Baitsholts serving as Baker’s alternate.

Baker ultimately withdrew himself from consideration, making Baitsholts the sole candidate. 

The town has been in violation of Ag and Markets Law for four months now, though there’s no indication that there will be a penalty. 

Last month, when The Enterprise reached out to Ag and Markets Director of Public Information Jola Szubielski for information about the town’s violation, Szubielski said the department would “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.” 

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