Berne appoints new DCO, a position curiously referred to as “political”

BERNE — After many months without one, the Berne Town Board appointed a new dog-control officer at its Dec. 1 special meeting by a 3-to-0 vote.

The appointment of Berne resident Donna Ferraino as the town’s DCO means that the town is no longer in violation of New York State Agriculture and Markets Law, which it had been ever since the resignation of former DCO Jodi Jansen in April. The Berne DCO position is expected to be repurposed to animal-control officer in January, meaning the officer will be responsible for any animal issues that arise in the town.

Councilman Joel Willsey, the sole Democrat, was absent. The three Republican members authorized town attorney Javid Afzali to write up a contract that would enable Berne to call Knox’s DCO, Nichole Salisbury, to assist with Berne dogs when needed, and vice versa. 

Salisbury had also applied for the role, and seemed the preferred choice of Deputy Supervisor Dennis Palow, who is also the supervisor-elect. Palow suggested that he wanted to hire Salisbury as a primary DCO and Ferraino as an alternate, despite the fact that Salisbury had told board members that she would not be willing to take on the responsibilities of an animal-control officer, and, according to Councilman Leo Vane, that she prefers to “work alone” and would not be amenable to having an alternate.

Palow’s preference for Salisbury, a Knox resident, was inconsistent with the board’s reasoning for firing Berne DCO Cheryl Baitsholts, a Rensselaerville resident who had held the position for over a decade and was popular with residents, and hiring Jansen, a Berne resident, instead. 

When Vane brought up a town policy that would prioritize the hiring of a Berne resident over an out-of-towner, Palow disagreed that the board would be hiring Salisbury instead of Ferraino, since both would technically be hired together. The two then skirmished over what it means to be an alternate.

As Vane argued in favor of Ferraino’s appointment as DCO, he curiously referred to the position as “political,” and when Palow said that it’s not a political position, Vane said, “Of course it is,” and he asked whether Jansen didn’t resign over “political issues.” Palow said he was not aware of any political factors involved in Jansen’s decision to resign. 

Vane could not be reached for clarification.

If it’s true that Jansen resigned for political reasons, it goes against what Supervisor Sean Lyons had told The Enterprise about Jansen’s resignation in April. He had said that Jansen resigned because his day job had begun taking him out of town. 

“I don't know of any political or unofficial reasons for his resignation,” Lyons told The Enterprise after the December meeting. “Mr. Jansen and I have known each other our whole lives and I believe him to be trustworthy and honest and I don't believe any politics led him to resign.”

Perhaps nothing more than a coincidence, Jansen’s leave was announced almost immediately after — and with an effective date just before — the Albany County Sheriff’s Office was unable to reach Jansen for assistance with a dog that had been found shot and left for dead in town. Deputies instead relied on Baitsholts for help. 

Jansen had long been the subject of scorn from some town residents, in part because he, unlike Baitsholts, had no known experience with animals, as well as allegations that he had mistreated a resident who was taking care of a wounded dog that wandered onto her property, and because he was supposedly difficult to reach.

Also, political motivations have been a suspected factor in Baitsholts’s firing. Baitsholts applied for the job twice after she was let go, once after the board announced that it was advertising the position (only to re-appoint Jansen, despite advertisements usually being a signal of desire for change), and once after Jansen resigned. 

The board was resistant to hiring Baitsholts, who for a while was the only candidate. Eventually, the board reconfigured the position so that, instead of earning a fixed salary, it would be compensated per hour worked with no money available for being on-call. It was only then that the board was willing to hire her back; however, she turned down the offer because the terms were inadequate.

Ferraino will be paid $19 per hour in the daytime and $24 per hour in the evening and at night. The post previously came with a $4,000 annual salary.

 

Ferraino

Ferraino is a school-bus driver and pet-sitter who has informal experience rescuing dogs and other animals. She told the board at the December meeting that she is planning on formalizing her pet-sitting into a home-based business, at which point she said she’ll be more available than she already is. 

“I know a lot of the animals and a lot of the people,” she said of the Hilltowns. “I nowhere near know everybody but I’m constantly volunteering with missing animals.”

She said that she applied for the DCO position later than she would have liked because of family health issues and because she was finishing up her college degree. But, with everything now squared away, she said that it’s “the perfect time for me to do this.”

Right now, Berne keeps any lost pets at the Knox municipal kennel, but Ferraino said that she wants to build kennels on her property. Overall, she appeared keen to start the job.

“I’m very open,” she said. “Anyone who knows me knows that they can call me at any time, I’ll drop everything and come as soon as I can. Animals need a voice and somebody who loves them. They need somebody that’s there, and I want to be that person.”

More Hilltowns News

  • A digital equity map, put together by a coalition of organizations including the New York State Education Department and the New York State Library, shows that approximately 15 percent of Hilltown households don’t have internet access, whether because they don’t have an internet subscription or because they don’t have internet-capable devices.

  • The Berne Town Board held a public hearing on a new animal-control law this week and received mostly minor suggestions for alteration from a public that seemed largely pleased with the proposed regulations. 

  • The Albany Water Board, steward of the Basic Creek dam in Westerlo, has received $100,000 from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to come up with a design for a rehabilitation project for the high-hazard dam, which is in substandard condition.

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