John Graves

A tenure marked by controversy

John Graves, whose six-year tenure as director of the Outer Banks SPCA had generated some critics and questions, is no longer in that job.

In a statement that did not discuss the circumstances surrounding or reasons for his sudden exit, the SPCA Board of Directors noted only that Graves, who was director and shelter manager, “has transitioned out of the organization” effective May 30. The board also thanked him for his “contributions” to the SPCA.

Noting that an interim shelter manager will be named soon while the search for a permanent one begins, the statement added:  “We will be working to bring on a leader who will take this great organization to the next level.”

The SPCA was recently in the news for its role in helping seize more than 80 animals—many reported to be badly neglected—from a Wanchese residence in April. One big ticket item going forward is a new $2 million dollar animal shelter that will replace the current outmoded facility and is tentatively expected to be completed by next spring

The Sentinel was unsuccessful in attempting to reach Graves for comment. According to the most recent 990 Form the Outer Banks SPCA, filed with the IRS, his compensation was $45,993 in fiscal year ending in June 2018.

Graves had re-assumed the role of shelter manager at the SPCA when Lisa Bridge, who had held that position, resigned at the end of last year. Bridge was hired in October 2017 after officials in Dare County — which has had an annual contract with the SPCA in the neighborhood of $400,000 —made it clear they wanted Graves removed from the shelter and animal control operations that are part of that contract.

“We had concerns and we shared them” with the SPCA Board, County Manager Bobby Outten told the Sentinel at the time.

Those concerns may have included an investigation of the SPCA by the Veterinary Division of the N.C. Dept. of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the Dare County Sheriff’s office. In addition, a former SPCA employee filed a lawsuit claiming she was dismissed after raising concerns about problems with the SPCA’s spay and neuter program. There were also questions raised about SPCA expenses, as well as the tracking of drugs used to euthanize animals.

But the only formal action known to be taken against the Outer Banks SPCA was a $500 fine levied by the state in 2017 after four animals in the facility were found to not have been vaccinated for rabies within the required 15-day time period. 

Even as the county raised concerns about Graves, he appeared to have the strong support of the SPCA Board. Back in 2017, SPCA Board President Ruth Ann Geer-Lloyd characterized his performance as “phenomenal,” and said the board’s own investigation into SPCA operations found no wrongdoing.

In a Sentinel story last June, some critics questioned the management and policies at the shelter, raised concerns about overcrowding and adopting out animals unfit to be pets, and suggested the Dare County Sheriff’s office should take over its operation.

Responding to those sentiments for that story, current SPCA Board President Bobbie Stager said: “There are too many people working too hard to be overshadowed by negativity.”

In its statement announcing Graves’s departure, the board said that, “Leadership changes at organizations are often very healthy and renewing. We have a passionate staff and community that will continue to provide exceptional care and loving homes to every animal.”

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