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City hires recruitment firm to find new animal services officer

Thursday, July 15, 2010 by Josh Rosenblatt

The city is now one big step closer to finding its next animal shelter director. Yesterday, city staff introduced the Animal Advisory Commission to the head of the recruitment firm that has been hired to find a replacement for former Town Lake Animal Shelter head Dorinda Pulliam, who was reassigned in mid-May.


The woman in charge of the recruitment process will be Heidi J. Voorhees, founder and president of Voorhees Associates, a company based in Deerfield, Illinois. Voorhees has worked with the city on five recruitment projects in the past 2 1/2 years, helping to find a new Parks and Recreation Department director, an economic development director, a medical director for ambulance services, and two assistant PARD directors.


Roberta Byram, employment services manager for the city’s Human Resources Department, told In Fact Daily that Voorhees’ past experience with the city made her the perfect choice to recruit the city’s next chief animal services officer. “Heidi has worked really well with us and with all the community groups we’ve been involved with,” she said.


The new chief will be taking over the position at a crucial time. He or she will be overseeing both the building of the new shelter currently underway on the Levander Loop and the implementation of the city’s new no-kill policy, which City Council approved in March.


At yesterday’s meeting, Voorhees told the commission that speaking with stakeholders both in and out of government will be crucial to helping her understand what is required in a candidate at such a critical time for the city. “It seems like a complete revamping of the way things have been done in the past,” she said. “You’re changing a culture” with the no-kill policy.


Commission Chair Larry Tucker agreed with Voorhees’ assessment but also stressed that Council’s directive to the commission states that they should “take a look at other successful no-kill cities, their policies and procedures, extract those policies and procedures, bring them back, and formulate a plan,” he said. “So I don’t think (candidates) need to reinvent the wheel. In fact, we prefer they didn’t. We just want them to replicate the policies and procedures that have proven to work.”


Commissioner Robert Graham echoed Tucker’s opinion, advising Voorhees that any candidate she considers should be able to identify the best practices of other cities and bring them to Austin.


After the meeting Voorhees told In Fact Daily that she would find those cities that Austin stakeholders have identified as having those best practices and try to recruit their animal services officers here.


In the end, Voorhees’ biggest challenge may not be finding the ideal candidate but dealing with all the stakeholders involved in the animal services process — including city staff, the 89 approved rescue groups in the city, and the commission itself – who are all passionate about animals but who have butted heads in the past over the best way to help them. Undaunted, she is meeting with city staff this morning, animal services employees this afternoon, and the public from 3:30 to 5pm at TLAC.


Asked whether she was ready for the level of community involvement she’s about to face, Voorhees sounded optimistic. “We have a lot of stakeholder groups,” she said, “but that’s good; it helps the process. It gives you a fuller feel for what the community wants and what the city wants. I welcome it.”

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