BENSON – Laurie Fivecoat, former Senior Animal Control Officer for the City of Benson officially resigned her position as of March 4, 2016.
Fivecoat’s letter of resignation touches on a list of grievances, ranging from what she perceives as unfair treatment by management to recent decisions regarding the shelter. The grievances stem primarily from the rehiring of Paul Teza, a former animal shelter manager who left the position a little more than four years ago for a security job with Cochise College. Fivecoat was hired as Teza’s replacement as shelter manager, a position she has held until her recent resignation.
Teza was hired by the Benson Police Department as a part-time employee after animal shelter volunteers started speaking out at city council meetings about conditions at the shelter and the need for another paid employee to help Fivecoat with the facility’s day-to-day operations. They spoke of the long hours Fivecoat had been working, how there were no paid employees to man the shelter when she was called out to pick up free roaming or injured dogs and that when she wanted time off, there was no one to step in and run the facility in her absence. The volunteers started addressing council members during the November council meetings.
In past years, the shelter had been staffed with two employees, but Fivecoat’s co-worker sustained a work-related injury in April 2013 which required surgery and eventually resulted in his resignation. Because of a citywide hiring freeze, the position went unfilled, which meant that Fivecoat relied on volunteers and one inmate to assist with some of the cleaning, animal care and other day-to-day operations.
When the city implemented a sales tax increase for the 2015-16 fiscal year to help with a budget shortfall, the extra revenue made it possible to hire a part-time employee to assist Fivecoat. It’s a move some feel was expedited because of pressure applied by the now-former shelter volunteers during council meetings. The announcement for a part-time position was posted by the city and Police Chief Paul Moncada started interviewing applicants. Angie Roberts, who had been one of the shelter’s volunteers, is among those who submitted an application. Teza also had applied for the position and was considered best qualified for the job, given his prior experience as an animal control officer and former shelter manager.
Teza has been hired to work 20 hours a week, which allows him to continue the position at Cochise College. He also was reinstated to his former position of shelter manager and has been made co-senior animal control officer with Fivecoat. Chief Moncada said that by making Teza shelter manager, it would shift some of the workload off Fivecoat while allowing her the time she needed for animal calls, veterinary transports, and general shelter operations.
Moncada’s decision to name Teza as shelter manager did not sit well with Fivecoat or any of the shelter volunteers, whom have since stopped their volunteer work at the shelter. Fivecoat and others feel that upper management, namely Chief Moncada and Fivecoat’s immediate supervisor, Benson Police Sgt. Floyd Graf, are showing favoritism towards Teza, especially since he has been hired as a part-time employee at 20 hours a week.
“There are a lot of issues that I question when it comes to how Paul Teza is being treated compared to how I was treated,” said Fivecoat. “First of all, when he came on board, he was handed hours that work well with his job at Cochise College. According to our employee handbook, that’s not supposed to happen.” Fivecoat also questions how Teza is expected to manage the shelter effectively on a part-time basis. In addition, the three years that Fivecoat worked alone, if she needed time off, she was responsible for finding someone to cover for her. Typically, the responsibility fell on volunteers or Graf’s willingness to step in and take care of animals in her absence.
Fivecoat also is concerned about Teza’s past reputation of euthanizing a high number of animals.
“When Paul (Teza) ran the shelter before I started there, it had a reputation as a high kill shelter,” said Fivecoat. “I worked very hard at changing that. I established a good working relationship with rescue groups, partnered with PetSmart to help get animals adopted out and attended other adoption events.” A spay/neuter grant was obtained through the AZ Pet Plate program, Fivecoat had an aggressive social media network and she partnered with the Humane Society to help with pet adoptions. Through those efforts, the shelter now boasts an 80 percent live-release rate.
“The previous shelter manager, Mr. Teza, did none of these things when he was employed by the city, although he had opportunity to do so,” noted Fivecoat in her letter of resignation. She went on to say she does not feel she can work with Teza “due to the vast differences in our values…”
Teza comes on board
Teza was hired mid-January.
Within two weeks after he started at the shelter, Teza euthanized a dog named Rusty, claiming the dog was a bite risk. It’s a claim that Fivecoat and the shelter volunteers argue is untrue. They say Rusty responded well to members of the public during adoption days at PetSmart and had a great relationship with shelter volunteers who enjoyed walking him. They believe he was euthanized because he had been at the shelter 11 months.
Rusty’s euthanasia created harsh reaction from a number of animal rescue groups and attracted the attention of a Tucson news station.
When asked about the euthanasia and negative public reaction, Moncada said he stands behind Teza’s decision. “We do not inhumanely dispose of any animal just to do it,” the chief said. “In fact, we go above and beyond the minimum city code requirements.” He also refutes claims that the animal shelter euthanizes animals that have “exceeded their time limit” at the shelter, as well as claims that Teza is unwilling to work with other agencies to place animals in good homes.
Fivecoat was told by her physician to take time off work for health reasons, citing high blood pressure, stress and fatigue. She remained on medical leave until her resignation in March.
Meanwhile, Moncada says the city has advertised the full time Senior Animal Control Officer position internally, as required by city policy. “Once the full-time position is filled, we will set regular hours for the shelter so we can move forward,” said Moncada, who noted that the shelter’s hours have been cut back until a full time animal control officer is hired. However, it’s unclear what those hours are. Moncada said that Fivecoat’s resignation was her choice, and he wishes her well.