County commissioner Tommy Mercer already has cemented his place in county history as the official who cleared the air in county restaurants.
Now he's working to clear the air for Animal Control.
If you recall, Mercer helped drive the county's ban on indoor smoking.
Some of the county's businesses complained that the restrictions would drive their smoking customers to Augusta or Aiken County.
Augusta since has come under Georgia's restrictions, and Aiken County now has smoking bans, too. So far, I'm not aware of a single business that has gone up in smoke since smokers were exiled outdoors.
Mercer now has moved on to his next effort: Making animal rescue organizations play nice with Columbia County Animal Care and Control.
This has been a long time coming. Animal rescue groups have had, to put it mildly, an adversarial relationship with Animal Control. This year, county officials appointed representatives from the rescue groups to the Animal Control Advisory Board so everyone could work together.
Bad idea. The meetings often devolved into nit-picking sessions, with some of the rescue groups getting downright nasty toward county officials.
It would be easy to characterize this as a simple disagreement in philosophies. The private rescue groups, naturally, are about rescuing animals. Taxpayer-funded Animal Control is charged with controlling the population of unwanted and nuisance animals.
Yet Mercer also believes rescue groups have a financial motive in complaining that the county is too quick to euthanize animals.
Follow the money. When animals are brought into the shelter, there are only two ways out: adoption or euthanasia. Some of the rescue groups want the facility to become a "no-kill" shelter, which could mean taxpayers warehousing and feeding hundreds of animals each day. (Full population at the shelter is less than 100 per day.)
Mercer contends the shelters want the no-kill policy not just to save animals, but to save animals for them. While you or I have to pay $20 to $25 to adopt an animal from the shelter, the rescue groups get them for free and then charge whatever they can to adoptive homes.
The rescue groups often stay maxed out on the numbers of animals they can care for, so if Animal Control holds the animals longer, it's like giving the rescue groups virtually unlimited foster-care capacity at taxpayer expense.
The criticism of Animal Control hides a financial motive, Mercer says.
Thus, the letter.
Sent a month ago, the letter from Mercer to local rescue groups lays out a code of conduct. In effect, it says to keep getting animals for free, you'd better play nice.
The letter demands rescuers act respectful and courteous to shelter staff, refrain from "time-consuming" inquiries and accept decisions by the staff.
It's the essence of I've-had-enough from Mercer. "It is past time to get back to serving the public and ending the verbal attacks, accusations and borderline abuse that the staff has endured," Mercer writes.
Since the letter was sent, all but one of the four rescue organizations have signed the agreement as a condition of receiving free animals.
Look: I've had lots of conversations with animal rescuers. They put the "passion" in compassion. But they also can let their passion get the best of them.
That's especially evident when hearing them attack the folks at Animal Control. Those county employees' work - dealing with the problem of irresponsible pet owners - is hard enough without getting hammered with irresponsible comments. Animal Control deserves better.
Thanks to Mercer, maybe they'll get it.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barry.paschal at newstimesonline.com.)
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