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SALEM Animal care groups fail to reach deal on who has control



Published: Tue, May 8, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



One issue that likely will be decided in court is control of a trust fund intended to benefit animals.

By NORMAN LEIGH

VINDICATOR SALEM BUREAU

SALEM -- An effort has failed between two private nonprofit groups to reach a deal on who will provide area animal welfare services.

The parties scrapped mediation after two sessions over the past two weeks, Atty. Robert Guehl, who represents one of the sides, said Monday.

Guehl declined to comment further, saying the parties have agreed not to talk publicly about the conflict.

The dispute will likely be decided by Judge C. Ashley Pike of Columbiana County Common Pleas Court, where a civil case is pending, Guehl added.

A key issue is control of a trust fund established in 1959 to benefit animals.

History: For decades the Salem Area Humane Society has used the funding, about $18,000 annually, to run an animal shelter along U.S. Route 62 in Perry Township, west of Salem.

Judge Pike barred distribution of the trust money more than a year ago after allegations that the society was mishandling money and failing to properly care for animals.

The Salem Area Humane Society continues to operate the shelter, saying that poor conditions have been remedied and that no money is being mishandled. The group is relying on donations and volunteer labor.

New group: In October, a new group formed, calling itself Salem Humane Society Inc.

It is asking the court to award it control of the trust money, which it would use to undertake animal welfare efforts. A decision regarding the trust fund is pending.

Early in April, the two groups undertook mediation in hopes of crafting an agreement that would avert a court battle.

Salem City Council President Dave Ventresco mediated the first session, then resigned to avoid the appearance of a conflict.

Ventresco serves on council with Councilwoman Mary Lou Popa, D-1st, who also is president of the Salem Area Humane Society. Guehl, Salem's former law director, now represents Salem Humane Society Inc.

After Ventresco resigned as mediator, the groups chose former county Sheriff Richard Koffel to mediate the last session before talks broke off.

leigh@vindy.com




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