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Hearings continue in Smithtown case against shelter director

Smithtown Animal Shelter director Sue Hansen, who was

Smithtown Animal Shelter director Sue Hansen, who was suspended in January, faces charges of misconduct and incompetence over her operation of the facility. Above, Hansen stands in a shrubby area behind the animal shelter on Nov. 30, 2016. Credit: Ed Betz

The lawyer for suspended Smithtown Animal Shelter director Sue Hansen said last week that the town knew about poor conditions at the facility months before she began.

Photographs and descriptions of filth at the shelter under her tenure are part of the civil service case the town has brought against Hansen, who was appointed director in 2015. She was suspended in January of 2017 and was charged in March with misconduct and incompetence.

The lawyer, Paul L. Dashefsky, at a hearing Friday, quoted from an engineering report commissioned by the town in July 2015 — a month before Hansen’s arrival — that found “animal odors in nearly every location” and “opportunities to improve virtually every aspect of the building.”

The report recommended delaying any substantial repairs until development of a master plan for renovation for the aging facility.

Dashefsky also suggested that Hansen had gotten little or no training from the town and that other officials were to blame for problems at the shelter, including fire alarms that were left broken or without batteries for months at a time. That condition, he suggested, was the result of lax oversight by town fire marshals.

Scott Middleton, a lawyer for the town, used two witnesses Friday to depict a department in chaos under Hansen’s leadership. Deputy public safety director Kevin McPadden testified that the smell of the shelter was so strong “it brought tears to my eyes” when he walked in.

His office received “myriad complaints” about conditions there for animals and workers, he said.

Kelly Brown, a town planning department employee and president of the Civil Service Employees Association unit representing town workers, said Hansen had given free rein at the shelter to volunteers, and sometimes ordered town workers to perform tasks that were outside their job descriptions.

Dashefsky’s first witness, volunteer Debi Maier, contradicted parts of those accounts. Hansen started training shelter volunteers and made a rule that they could only enter some shelter areas accompanied by employees, she said.

Maier said Hansen upset routines at the shelter to improve the lives of its animals, turning her private office into a room where animals and prospective adoptive families could meet and ordering staff to start their workdays by walking dogs who had been confined overnight.

“It made a difference,” she said.

The hearing is to resume Thursday at 10 a.m. at Town Hall.

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