– July 6, 2023 –
Good morning. In this week’s slate of Coastal Georgia public safety stories, we look at the fate of stray animals in Camden County, a Savannah lawyer forced to give up his law license and firefighter funding woes in Liberty County.
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Camden left without shelter provider
An overlooked but essential aspect of public safety is animal services. And in Camden County, a crisis over animal care burst into public view over the weekend.
The county’s $167K contract with its sole animal shelter provider, the Humane Society of Camden County, lapsed on June 30. This means Camden County Animal Control cannot transport stray, lost or injured animals to a shelter until a new contract is secured.
The saga leading up to the contract cancellation goes like this:
- HSCC contracted with the county for close to 40 years and the nonprofit approved a routine renewal in May. But weeks after, the county came back with a proposed change – giving the county power to appoint two-thirds of HSCC’s board, according to board president Dave Brown. (We posted a copy of the proposal here).
- Brown said they balked at the offer. On June 27, Camden County commissioners then approved the original renewal without the change. Brown said he understood that to be an invalid contract. Brown said HSCC had a chance to let their contract sunset on June 30 and they took it. The organization wanted to become a no-kill shelter, allowing them to have discretion to select which animals it takes in.
- County Administrator Shawn Boatwright said they didn’t hear HSCC intended to cancel and become no-kill until one day before the contract was to expire on July 1, leading to the current crisis. Boatwright identified miscommunication as a factor and hopes HSCC will come back to the table. “It’s unfortunate that everything happened the way it did,” he said.
In the meantime, the Humane Society still has Camden County pets up for adoption. Here are the adoptable pets on their website.
Savannah attorney loses license
A once-prominent Savannah personal injury attorney surrendered his law license after allegations he spent settlement funds on himself, according to a Wednesday order from the Georgia Supreme Court.
Richard H. Middleton, Jr., a past president of both the American Association for Justice and the Savannah Trial Lawyers Association, filed a lawsuit in 2018 for damages his client suffered in a car crash in Savannah.
An insurance company settled the case for $100,000. But Middleton “incrementally withdrew the settlement proceeds for his personal use,” the order said.
The Supreme Court approved his voluntary surrender on Wednesday, which is “tantamount to disbarment,” the order said. Attempts by The Current to contact Middleton were unsuccessful.
Separately, a former employee of Middleton filed suit in March 2023 in Chatham County, alleging Middleton owed the employee $300,000 in unpaid wages.
Liberty County officials held a last minute budget meeting on June 29, where commissioners mulled cuts to its fire department.
Liberty County Fire Services, the countywide fire department, has 27 vacant firefighter positions. Commissioners looked at those vacant jobs as a way to “keep the tax base the same” from a potential increase in property taxes (millage rate), according to Commissioner Gary Gilliard.
Gilliard and County Manager Joey Brown proposed cutting 14 positions for the open firefighter jobs at the Miller Park Station near Midway — a station that cost $8.7 million to build and opens in September or October.
The cut jobs could return later in the year, they said. But Commissioner Marion Stevens said the proposal doesn’t make sense.
“We will have a brand new building we’ll cut the ribbon on and then close the doors,” Steven said. Commissioners ended up approving the budget as it was with no cuts. But they said they would revisit the issue and possibly amend the budget once the property tax costs become clearer.
ICYMI: The Current undertook a five-month investigation on Liberty County Fire Services’ rocky transition from part-time to professional fire agency and how missteps may have caused the destructive blaze of a historic home. You can read the investigation here.
One more thing: Fireworks
The Current‘s photographer, Justin Taylor, has a drone.
While enormously helpful to our reporting and cool overall, the drone gave Taylor a unique birds-eye view of Savannah’s 4th of July fireworks show on Tuesday night.
Camden taxpayers will have to foot the bill, after the county’s insurance provider no longer wishes to cover its losses due to repeated malpractice incidents from Camden County Sheriff’s Office deputies, like jailhouse beating, car crashes and damaging PIT maneuvers during chases.
Camden County’s legal fees continued to mount as it appealed the case up to the state’s highest court in an attempt to overturn a March 2022 vote prohibiting the county from completing a $4.8 million real estate deal for the planned launch site.
Liberty County officials have pushed for warehouse development while its fire department lacks key equipment and safety standards. A historic home fire in November displayed the glaring deficiencies at the fire department.
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