In a decision Salina City Commissioner Melissa Hodges called the “worst vote I’ve ever cast,” the commission approved granting the interim city manager the ability to deviate from personnel policy and accept the resignation of Salina Animal Shelter manager Vanessa Cowie, who was placed on administrative leave Aug. 15.
Cowie’s resignation is effective Sept. 30.
Commissioners called a special executive session at 6 p.m. Tuesday after Cowie contacted interim city manager Mike Schrage to submit her resignation Monday evening.
Cowie was scheduled to attend a hearing today with Schrage seeking reinstatement.
Schrage said Tuesday that he could have accepted Cowie’s resignation Monday, but “what’s beyond my authority is in terms of the personnel policy and specifically that is to grant her accrued sick leave to her which would amount to 99 hours.”
“I have the authority to accept her resignation but for that one provision, which is what necessitated me bringing that issue to you for your consideration and that’s really the item before you at this point,” Schrage told the commission. “If you indicate that that is acceptable to you then we can proceed with her request.”
The commission approved granting Schrage permission to grant Cowie 99 days of sick leave.
Hodges said she would not have accepted the resignation if it wasn’t Cowie’s request.
“This in no way is any indication of the high esteem that I hold Vanessa Cowie and the work that she, her staff and her volunteers have done for Salina Animal Services,” she said. “I’m really, really sad that we got to this point.”
Cowie was not available for comment Tuesday evening.
During the Aug. 20 city commission meeting, more than 100 of Cowie’s supporters voiced to Salina city commissioners their frustration regarding her suspension.
Supporters also began circulating a petition calling for Cowie’s reinstatement and a GoFundMe page to assist with Cowie’s attorney fees.
“It’s a sad day for the city of Salina that we’ve ran off one of the best animal shelter directors we’ve ever had,” said Nicole Krob, a member of city Animal Control Advisory and Appeals Board. “I’m sad. I’m sad. I almost cried.”
Krob said she intends to continue attending city commission meetings and asking that the animal shelter be moved from under the Salina Parks and Recreation umbrella.
Maggie Gillam, a member of the Friends of the Salina Animal Shelter board, called Cowie’s resignation “a devastating loss for Salina and the animal shelter.”
“I’m disappointed that it had to get to this point, but I can’t blame her for wanting to take another job in another community,” she said. “She is truly an amazing person who is passionate about animals and about what she does and she will be successful wherever she goes. She will be greatly missed by all the volunteers and the staff members at the shelter.”
Cowie’s supporters gave a series of speeches, which lasted almost an hour, to call upon city officials to allow Cowie to return to her job during public comments at Monday’s City Commission meeting.
Following comments from Cowie’s supporters, Doug Rudick, Chairman of the Parks and Recreation Citizen Advisory Board, invited people to share their opinions on Cowie’s suspension during their next board meeting 4 p.m. today in Room 107 of the City-County building.
“I just want the folks there to realize that they can have a voice in what is going on in the Parks and Recreation Department, but they got to be there and talk to us,” he said. “Whatever your view is on any of this, I just want to extend this invitation. This is another avenue for you to express your opinion and be part of this city government.”
During an interview after the meeting, Rudick said the advisory board values hearing from citizens.
“We can only represent the citizens if we can hear from them,” he said.