Amanda Helton, former shelter manager for the Humane Society of Highlands County, plays with a dog at the shelter March 2, 2012. A Facebook group has formed supporting Helton, who was fired this week. RYAN PELHAM/FILE PHOTO
SEBRING - Hundreds of comments have been posted on the Highlands County Humane Society's Bring Back Amanda Helton page. Helton, the shelter manager for more than two years, was fired two days ago. "I received a phone call from Sandy," Helton said Thursday. Sandy Anderson is the board vice president. "She said, 'On the advice of our attorney, you are terminated.' And she said I wasn't allowed back on shelter grounds." Helton said the firing came without warning, as she had never been disciplined before. "I wasn't accused of anything." She started as an attendant at the kennel on Haywood Taylor Boulevard in 2008.
"Amanda ran that place VERY professionally," wrote Jill Edgley-Hampton, who operates a private animal shelter in Hardee County, on the Facebook page. "Very long story short, I questioned things that I did not believe was up to par. As a result, I was fired," Helton posted on Facebook. However, Helton thought the reason for her firing was that she asked questions at a July 22 meeting of the employees, volunteers, supporters and the board of the Humane Society. "One person has complete and utter control," she said, referring to board president Judy Spiegel. "She makes every decision." For that reason, she said, several volunteers have quit, along with board members. They were replaced with Spiegel's friends, Helton said. "I don't know why they resigned," Spiegel countered. "I can't say they resigned because of me. "I make no decisions," Spiegel said. "The board makes all of the decisions. I have no right to make a decision without board approval. The majority of the board votes on everything that's done there." Helton, volunteer Pam Bradshaw and former supporters are among those who are now calling for Spiegel to resign. "Every organization needs new blood from time to time," said Bradshaw, who has presented pet adoption fairs at Tractor Supply and other retail businesses. Spiegel said she will not step down. One faction has suggested a split within the Humane Society. "We hope the public continues to support us," Spiegel said. "This is about 150 animals at the shelter; it's not about who was terminated and why. That's like saying don't go buy food for 150 animals." Another major financial supporter, Edna Papeakis of Sebring, praised Spiegel and accused detractors of being on a "witch hunt. I don't know anybody who works harder than Judy." Spiegel took office at a time when Humane Society money may have been used improperly, Papeakis said. "The money has been properly used since Judy has been the president. Anybody who has been there long enough knows how the shelter has been run and how the money has been spent. If it wasn't for her fundraising, there would be severe problems. I am sure it is grossly unfair," she added. Spiegel defended Facebook accusations that her management style was authoritarian and that she "hand-picked" the replacement board. "The board votes on board members," Spiegel said. The bylaws were revised because "they were written in 1965. They were looked at by an attorney, and (Cliff Ables) said they are perfectly legal and reasonable. "When we started with this shelter three-and-a-half years ago, it was $25,000 in debt," Spiegel said. "In that amount of time, many, many people have pulled together. Now we're ready to build a brand new building this year, and that is amazing." "I have to keep looking to the future and what is best for the shelter," Spiegel said. "The board only has the shelter's best interests at heart. It was very clear that the decision (about Helton) we made was the correct one. We hope that people understand that we cannot discuss the reason for Amanda's termination. We have an employer-employee relationship. If you got fired, I couldn't call and ask why. We can't divulge her personnel records." "I am going to fight this. I will explain further tomorrow. I really am falling apart right now. I'm completely lost," Helton posted on Facebook. "Hurt, and in shock. I haven't slept or eaten in two days." "There was a picture of Sandy Anderson in the paper than said 'ANIMAL CONTROL DOES NOT BELONG TO DARRYL SCOTT,'" said Bradshaw, who stood at protests with Anderson. "Funny how things have now gone full circle." The Humane Society office was closed for Wednesday afternoon, but Spiegel would not say why. Spiegel said Holly and Adam Voge are overseeing the Humane Society office until a new shelter manager is hired. "I have total faith in them. They are in contact with the board all the time." The Bring Back Amanda Helton page is posted at www.facebook.com/groups/713194655360764/ The Humane Society's page is a www.facebook.com/pages/The-Humane-Society-of-Highlands-County/139031071859 firstname.lastname@example.org 863-386-5828