By Doug Ireland
---- — DANVILLE — There’s a little more bark and bite in the animal control officer’s race.
Selectman and police Officer Michelle Cooper is a candidate for the one-year position sought by former animal control officer Sheila Johannesen.
It’s the same job Cooper and fellow selectmen have asked voters to eliminate when they go to the polls in March. Residents reviewed that proposal and other warrants articles during the town’s deliberative session Saturday. The animal control article was not amended.
Johannesen has accused Cooper, a former assistant animal control officer, of opposing the elected position because she served citations to her a couple of times when Cooper’s dogs ran loose.
Johannesen said she was surprised to hear Cooper was seeking the job.
“She’s running, but she’s the one who put in on the ballot to get rid of it,” Johannesen said. “Why would one who wanted to get rid of the position be the one running for it?”
She said Cooper has a conflict of interest because she works for the police department.
“If she is on duty as a police officer, how is that going to work?” Johannesen asked. “I can’t see this not being a conflict of interest.”
But Cooper said her decision to run is not a personal attack against Johannesen.
“It has nothing do with her,” Cooper said.
Selectmen did away with the post in 2011. It was a move Johannesen, who held the job for seven years, characterized as an act of vengeance. Danville now contracts with Plaistow for animal control services; Johannesen is an animal control officer in Hampstead.
Johannesen and Selectmen’s Chairman Shawn O’Neil often clashed over the animal control budget. Cooper, who was not a selectman at the time, served as the assistant animal control officer for two years.
Johannesen has claimed O’Neil had a “personal vendetta” against her, which he denies. O’Neil said the town saves thousands of dollars a year by contracting out its animal control services.
Last year, Johannesen launched a citizen petition that called for the position’s reinstatement. Residents voted, 418-263, in March 2012 to restore the part-time job.
Although Cooper said she has nothing personal against her, Johannesen would not have the authority to be an effective animal control officer if elected, she said.
The new animal control position, as created, does not give the officer the right to legally issue summonses to people whose pets are running loose or violating the law, Cooper said.
“You can’t do it by citizen petition,” she said. “She had that authority before because she was appointed every year.”
As a police officer, Cooper said, she has that authority.
If elected, Johannesen would only have the power to pick up loose pets and not fine their owners, according to Cooper.
“I just think it’s silly if we have an elected position and the person has no job,” Cooper said.
Cooper has said previously that officers can draft arrest warrants and complaints while a typical animal control officer cannot. A police officer can put down an injured animal, but an animal control officer doesn’t have that authority, Cooper said.
O’Neil said he supports continuing to contract with Plaistow for animal control services, as does police Chief Wade Parsons.
Plaistow’s animal control officer, Brian Farrell, is also a certified police officer.
O’Neil told voters Saturday that the animal control budget has dropped from about $12,000 when Johannesen held the position to about $4,500 this year.
He has said in the past the animal control budget soared when Johannesen worked for the town, partly because she was responding to wildlife calls the state Fish and Game Department should have handled. Those included calls involving raccoons and skunks.
Johannesen said if Danville doesn’t have its own animal control officer, it would miss out on thousands of dollars in dog licensing fees and fines that she used to collect.