Contract dispute brings drama to city hall

HOUSTON When Gerry Fusco was first brought in about a month ago, animal lovers had their doubts. But since then, many have come around to his side and they support what he's been doing at BARC. So they didn't expect to have a difficult time with city council's approval of his contract, but one city council member said she didn't have enough information to act.

At the city's animal shelter, it looked like business as usual, while the real dog-fight was taking place inside city hall.

Council member Jolanda Jones said, "Procrastination on somebody else's part does not constitute an emergency on my part."

Saying she does not have all the information she needs to make a decision, Jones used a procedural move called a "tag" to delay the contract vote on Gerry Fusco. Fusco is the change agent hired by Mayor Bill White to overhaul the beleaguered city animal pound, and the mayor wasn't happy.

"We do have a contract expiring on Friday," explained Mayor White. "I don't think it's acceptable to ask... You know, we want this reorganization to occur as quickly as possible."

Without the contract, the current money used to pay Fusco's salary runs out on Friday. For several hours this afternoon, animal lovers worried that Fusco would simply walk off the job.

"They were just concerned that Gerry Fusco was going to leave BARC because his contract was not signed," explained animal activist Tina Faust. "For the first time there was somebody in BARC that may have been able to turn it around."

Fusco came close to quitting. He even crafted a letter earlier this week, saying he would leave because he didn't feel like city leaders supported his efforts. But this afternoon, after some prodding by the mayor's office, Fusco says he's staying put.

"I'm committed to this," he said. "I have been putting an awful lot of time and effort into this. I think we're making some very positive changes. I'm not going to walk out just because a purchase order expires."

City council is not meeting next week, so it will be at least two weeks before they have a chance to vote on Fusco's contract. That means he could be working without pay for at least 10 days, but he says he is staying put for now. Fusco adds that he hopes Jones gets all of her questions answered in time for that vote.

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