EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 19, 2013

Danville ACO candidate battles with selectmen

By Doug Ireland
direland@eagletribune.com

---- — DANVILLE — The town’s heated animal control officer race has taken a new twist.

Former animal control officer Sheila Johannesen, a candidate for the newly reinstated one-year position, is accusing selectmen of trying to sabotage her candidacy.

Johannesen, who is running against police officer and Selectman Michelle Cooper, said she has been told selectmen cannot immediately fulfill her Right-to-Know request for animal control records.

She said she submitted the request to selectmen by certified mail Jan. 15 and was told she would get the information by Feb. 19, but received nothing. She received a letter Thursday saying the information would not be available until March 15 — three days after the election.

Johannesen served as the town’s animal control officer for seven years until selectmen eliminated the position in 2011. The town then contracted with Plaistow for animal control services.

She requested records from both towns to show residents how much each costs, claiming it’s more cost effective for the town to have its own animal control officer.

Now, voters — thanks to selectmen — will not have the details necessary to make an informed decision, Johannesen said.

“They don’t want the town to know what’s going on,” she said.

Selectmen, especially Chairman Shawn O’Neil, claim it’s much cheaper for the town to contract with Plaistow than to employ an animal control officer. Johannesen and O’Neil often clashed over the animal control budget before her job was eliminated.

O’Neil could not be reached Friday for comment, but fellow Selectman Chris Giordano said there was no way the town could comply with Johannesen’s request before March 15.

Giordano said the request was not received until last week and the town has five days to respond, then 30 days under state law to comply.

“She has a long laundry list of stuff she wanted,” he said. “She should have made the request earlier. It’s not a mistake on our part.”

Johannesen, who now works part time as an animal control officer in Hampstead, sponsored a citizen petition warrant article last year that sought to restore the position. It was approved by voters, 418-263.

This year, selectmen have sponsored their own warrant article to eliminate the position.

Johannesen accuses selectmen, especially O’Neil, of conspiring to make sure she’s not elected — even it that includes withholding information from the public.

Cooper, who supports eliminating the position, said previously her decision to run is not a personal attack against Johannesen. She could not be reached for comment Friday.

O’Neil told voters at the town’s deliberative session Feb. 2 that the animal control budget has dropped from about $12,000 when Johannesen held the position to about $4,500 this year.