ST.GEORGE- In the wake of last month’s revelations of neglect and mismanagement at the city animal shelter, two volunteers at P.A.W.S., a no-kill animal shelter in Saint George, have now said that Mayor Dan McArthur visited P.A.W.S. the day before the allegations became public. They said he asked them to discourage pet-rescue workers from coming forward with their allegations because he did not want to be embarrassed in the upcoming mayoral election. McArthur is running against St. George City Councilman Jon Pike.
“He was there to get us to be on his side and to stop the ‘fanatics,’ as he called them,” P.A.W.S. volunteer, Martha Kirk told St. George News, “he was trying to discourage people from talking,” she said.
McArthur’s visit to P.A.W.S. occurred only hours before the council meeting on July 26, where dozens of pet-rescue workers filled city council chambers hoping to reveal their concerns about the shelter to the mayor and council. The mayor declined to open the meeting to allow public comment, citing procedure and time-constraints.
After the meeting adjourned, residents and rescue workers stayed behind and shared their concerns about the shelter with St. George News. Many of them said that they had not come forward earlier because they had felt intimidated by city officials, and feared reprisal for speaking; however, McArthur has since said, several times, that he doesn’t understand why anybody would have such fears.
Agene Mills, the other volunteer who witnessed McArthur’s visit to P.A.W.S. said that she felt that his intention was to intimidate them. “We did, both Martha and I thought that, but we were very honest and told him what we thought.”
“He hemmed and hawed,” Kirk said. “He said he didn’t want this controversy to interrupt his reelection.”
Both ladies said that McArthur referred to the pet-rescue workers as fanatics. Kirk said that McArthur told them “there are fanatics out there who will get up and say terrible things.”
When McArthur was questioned about the purpose of his visit to P.A.W.S. that day, he originally said that his intentions were to inspect a walkway installed by his company, McArthur Welding, to thank the volunteers, and to ask them questions about how their no-kill facility functions. “I’m one of those people who just likes to thank people,” he said.
However, when confronted with Kirk and Mills’ version of events, McArthur did not deny that it was true. “I can’t go back and say I said it or didn’t say it,” he said, and that he felt his meaning may have been misunderstood.
“If I said it is an election year – and I don’t know what I said in that particular case – but it is an election year,” he said, “and I’m running for office. I’d like to be reelected.” It is natural to want to calm people down when running for reelection, McArthur said. “The whole idea is not to upset people, to calm down what you can.”
The Mayor at first defended his use of the term “fanatics,” to describe the people who exposed the shelter conditions. “I believe you would probably feel when you were talking to these people that they’re very fanatical about that situation – more so than anything else,” he said.
Later in the interview, the mayor admitted that he could see how the word might be seen as offensive.
Agene Mills said that people at P.A.W.S. had approached McArthur before and had told him what they thought did need to be changed. “Then all of the sudden they said, ‘well we didn’t know anything was going on,’ or ‘why didn’t anyone tell us.’ But we have. We told him,” Mills said.
McArthur has denied having any knowledge about the poor conditions of the animal shelter, prior to when the allegations were recently made public. In fact, at last Wednesday’s city council meeting, he publicly chastised those in attendance for not bringing the allegations to his attention sooner.
City-council candidate Tara Dunn, who had worked together with Kris Neil and other rescue-workers to bring public attention to the conditions at the shelter, said she was outraged when she heard of McArthur’s visit to the volunteers.
“It speaks to the profound self-serving nature of an elected official when he calls-out volunteers for not speaking up, after he personally made sure they were intimidated,” she said.
“I’m disappointed, if that happened,” mayoral candidate and city-councilman Jon Pike said, “and it sounds like it did.”
“What is a fanatic anyways,” asked Pike, “someone who believes strongly in something?” Pike said he wondered if McArthur would label somebody who was very passionate about their religion as a religious fanatic. “Frankly, it’s kind of offensive and I just don’t think it’s helpful,” he said.
Pike had negotiated with the mayor and the council to allow the rescue-workers to speak at the meeting on July 26. He said he believed they had reached an agreement to allow them to publicly tell the council about the conditions at the shelter.
“At that meeting, I was caught off guard,” he said, referring to McArthur’s decision not to allow for public comment.
McArthur said he believes he was somehow misunderstood by the volunteers.
“I don’t remember everything I said and I certainly wouldn’t say that I didn’t say it,” he said, and that he sometimes doesn’t choose his words as carefully as he should. “I am who I am. I’m a welder with a title,” he said. “I’d certainly go back and apologize to those two ladies if I’ve offended them or caused them to believe that they can’t speak,” he said. “I believe that every person has an opinion and it’s important.”
Martha Kirk does not agree. She said he didn’t want people to speak out about the shelter conditions. “He didn’t want this controversy to interrupt his reelection,” she said. “He thinks the city is his.”
- City launches inquiry into allegations of abuse at St. George Animal Shelter
- Wednesday meeting for public discussion of animal shelter conditions
- Soul searching, regret, reform after animal shelter allegations
- City Council passes resolution to improve animal shelter
Ed. note: Name correction made – Martha Kirk; added links.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.