published Thursday, October 17th, 2013

McKamey Animal Center director Karen Walsh resigns

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    Karen Walsh shows photos that she took inside of the Pet Company at Hamilton Place while testifying in a Chattanooga City Court trial in 2010.
    Photo by Angela Lewis.
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Executive Director Karen Walsh has resigned from McKamey Animal Center.

Walsh, who has overseen the nonprofit animal shelter since 2009, submitted her resignation letter to board member Bruce Baird, sources said.

Walsh didn't return calls seeking comment, but she confirmed her resignation in an interview with WRCB-TV, saying it will be effective next month, the station reported. She told WRCB that she is leaving McKamey to accept a national position with PetSmart Charities.

Her resignation comes two weeks after Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke's staff asked City Auditor Stan Sewell to review how McKamey's governing body, the Animal Care Trust Board, functions and questions about how Walsh received a $10,000 bonus.

Walsh, whose salary was $107,000 this year, was awarded her annual bonus without a vote by the full board. Baird had asked board members to approve the bonus retroactively by electronic vote. A state official said that likely violates Tennessee's open meetings law.

At their most recent meeting, McKamey board members defended their decision, calling the electronic vote request a mistake.

"It's the exact same bonus we give her every year. [Walsh] exceeds all of our expectations," board Vice Chairman Susie Matthews said after the meeting.

The city provides $1.5 million of McKamey's $2.2 million revenue in exchange for animal control services. This year, Walsh asked the city for a 3 percent increase in their budget, but the administration said they told her that funding was adequate.

Currently, McKamey is operating on a month-to-month basis with the city. Berke has said the contract won't be renewed until the internal audit is complete.

Walsh was brought in as interim director after the previous director was fired and had put the animal center $400,000 in the red, several board members have said.

Board members credit Walsh with transforming the center, earning McKamey national recognition for pet adoptions and for the center's recent makeover from reality television show "Trading Spaces."

"I think Karen has done a great job, said Karla McKamey-Valadez, emeritus board member and an early benefactor along with her father Bob McKamey, last week before Walsh resigned. "I'm thrilled with how everything is running; I'm so proud of the center."

McKamey-Valadez didn't return multiple calls on Wednesday for comment.

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at jlukachick@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659.

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...

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