Straight off, City Hall spokesman Frank Librio would like us to clarify something he told Anna yesterday: It's not that new Dallas Animal Services director Jody Jones isn't ready to handle media requests, as we noted, it's just that she's "focusing on operations at the moment and not handling media inquiries yet." By which he means: There's a major shake-up presently taking place at DAS, involving 53 workers receiving their RIF notices, and she's got her hands full.
This morning, I asked Librio for further info about those layoffs; Joey Zapata, the interim city manager tasked with code compliance, called back to explain.
Says Zapata, those 53 RIFs are being doled out per City Manager Mary Suhm's budget-saving recommendations that involve a significant "reorganization" at the recently beleaguered city-run animal shelter. That will involve collapsing some positions, filling others with temporary workers and outsourcing other duties, chief among them animal-cruelty investigations.
"We are not going to have 53 fewer positions," Zapata tells Unfair Park. "We're going to have roughly the same number of positions, give or take one, but in different functions. The way it's broken out among different staff members has changed."
"For instance," Zapata says, "we have animal keepers who do two different kinds of things. They clean the kennels and kind of keep an eye on the animals. They're also the customer service people who sit at the desks, and those are two different functions." Recently, he says, the city began using contract labor, which is to say, temps, to clean the kennels and tend to the animals -- work that's "labor intensive," he says, but easy enough to train people to do once they've been given the proper instructions.
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"It's nothing too complicated," he says. "The customer service representative is a little more skilled [position], and they're better able to engage the public and walk the shelter and make sure it's presentable, clean, healthy. And they can oversee the animal keepers."
Zapata also says the city will now do without some of the so-called senior animal officers, who, like the regular animal officers, are out in the field, collecting strays and issuing citations to their owners. Right now, there's but one difference in the positions: Senior, he says, "are tasked with the responsibility of doing euthanasia. But there's a smaller number of those senior officers, and I don't think it's good to keep that one function in one small group since it's so stressful. So we'll expand the number of regular officers and the number of supervisors, since we're a 24/7 service."
Lastly, to the issue of animal cruelty investigations. Right now, those calls are handled internally: If a call comes in, a regular ol' animal officer goes out to substantiate the charge. If they can confirm, then a senior animal officer's sent out. That, far as the city's concerned, is too much for the city to handle.
"So we'll contract that follow-up for substantiated cruelty cases to the SPCA, which already handles other animal cruelty cases in the municipalities around us," Zapata says. "They're also sworn in those counties -- we'll have to work out an arrangement here -- but that means they can do more in terms of taking the cases fo the district attorney."