County Commissioners Todd Wolfrum and Thad Lichtensteiger announce their decision Thursday morning. (DHI Photo/Ed Gebert)
County Commissioners Todd Wolfrum and Thad Lichtensteiger announce their decision Thursday morning. (DHI Photo/Ed Gebert)
DHI Median Editor

VAN WERT -- After viewing and discussing the results of an investigation by the Van Wert County Sheriff's Office, on Thursday morning, the Van Wert County Commissioners announced the firing of County Dog Warden Rich Strunkenberg.

Commissioner Thad Lichtensteiger listed the following reasons for the move: incompetency, inefficiency, gross neglect of duty, misfeasance, malfeasance, non-feasance, and failure of good behavior for the following four reasons: 1) failure to supply adequate food and water to the dogs, 2) failure to adequately clean the kennel and cage area, 3) failure to secure dead animals in the facility, 4) failure to supply adequate care and attention to the animals.

An investigation into allegations against Strunkenberg was initiated by Van Wert County Sheriff Tom Riggenbach after an anonymous complaint was received at the Sheriff's Office about a week and a half ago. The allegations were not released last week, but Riggenbach told the media that it concerned poor conditions at the animal shelter and that conditions were "not what was acceptable to me," he stated.

Riggenbach was placed in charge of Strunkenberg one year ago to provide more oversight and to coordinate response to animal control calls. The Sheriff reported that Strunkenberg had been doing a good job in duties he observed, but admitted he had not been inside the kennel at the shelter. A disciplinary hearing was held Tuesday and the results of that hearing were considered by the commissioners along with a conference with Riggenbach, and viewing various reports and photographs of the interior of the kennel.

The motion for the termination of Strunkenberg passed on a 2-0 vote with both Lichtensteiger and Todd Wolfrum voting the motion. Commissioner Stan Owens is on vacation this week, but Lichtensteiger noted that Owens had been involved in discussion the case and that "he was absolutely on board with the termination," reported Lichtensteiger.

With Strunkenberg terminated from the position, the commissioners are planning to get together with Riggenbaugh and the Humane Society board in about two weeks to discuss the next steps for the position.

"We will talk about how we move forward from here, and how we might restructure this position so it serves the needs and regains the trust of the community," said Lichtensteiger. "We can talk about how there is going to be some safeguards and checks and balances, how we are going to integrate the use of volunteers to make it a better working shelter."

One component to be discussed will be the use of volunteers. Complaints were made that persons had volunteered at the shelter in the past, but recently those people were not allowed to assists.

"We certainly encourage volunteerism and want that to be enabled in the future." noted Wolfrum. "We didn't know that opportunities had been denied in the past."