A heated debate among Blount County animal advocates spilled out onto the street and into the public eye on Thursday.
"Enough is enough. We want to know what is going on, the public has the right to know what's going on, and so that's why we're here," said Roddey Coe, who helped to organize the protest.
The target was the president of the Blount County Humane Society, Steven Phipps. The protesters said he is misusing funds and not being open about the non-profit group. They set up shop outside the All Creatures Thrift Store, which helps to fund the humane society.
Coe launched a social media protest months ago and then set up a Web site, www.dirtysecretsandlies.com.
On it, he has posted information, including documents and recorded conversations.
One of the documents in question is the humane society's 990-EZ tax document. Coe says he's particularly concerned about the line involving money spent on doghouses.
"On it, it shows that $8,006 was spent for a sheltering program as well as a food program, yet, people who were directly involved with that program at that time, said it was all donations," Coe said.
Phipps was quick to respond.
"He is correct," the non-profit's president said.
Phipps went on to explain that a previous worker made some clerical errors that have since been corrected.
"Actually, the bookkeeper, we went to talk to her about that, and on her bookkeeping software, when she prints out the paperwork, it has several categories underneath it, but the way it prints out on the document, it just says doghouses," Phipps said. "She has amended that so it shows the several programs that we used that $8,000 for, and that's just an example of the half-truths they take and tell people, and there's a logical explanation for them."
Phipps said the organization split earlier in the year, and several volunteers left, including that bookkeeper.
He likened the situation to a divorce, with at least one party angry at the other and having all the information needed to hurt the other.
"We decided that we wanted to be bullet-proof, and that's the term we use, so we went to a non-profit attorney and asked him to make us bullet-proof, and we went to a bookkeeper and did the same thing, and we have continually, in the last nine months, been in the process of doing that," he said. "We feel like we can stand any scrutiny."
Coe also raised concerns about Phipps using humane society funds to pay for his own vet bills. Phipps said he only uses that money for the long-term foster pets he keeps.
Another allegation centers around Renee Huntley, a woman who was charged with 23 counts of animal cruelty in Knoxville back in 2008. Huntley is still fosters animals for the humane society.
"I've known this person for a long time, she has a wonderful heart, and she's saved more animals than any other rescue group that I can think of, put together," he said. "She does a wonderful job."
Coe insists Phipps is not being open and is refusing to turn over documents that should be open to the public. He has filed complaints with the Department of State, Office of the Attorney General and Reporter and the Internal Revenue Service.
No one from the attorney general's office returned calls to 10News regarding the status of the complaints. Spokesmen for the other two organizations said they could not comment.
In the meantime, it seems the verbal debate will continue. Protesters planned the rally for Thursday to coincide with the humane society's public meeting that evening. They said they would return again on Saturday.
Phipps, meanwhile, said his group is working to make sure the group is following all its rules and had gathered the necessary paperwork with plans to post the documents on the humane society website.
"We really want to go on and move on, and we hope that they can do the same thing because all of the people are connected with local animal groups, and our admonition to them would be, you know, go and help animals and stop worrying about paperwork issues," he said.
But Coe says he's looking for specific evidence - receipts, if necessary - that he hasn't seen yet.
"If the rumors are true, then we can get them rectified so that the humane society can be back where it belongs, and if they're false, they're false, we're all wrong, we apologize, and hopefully the humane society can then join the animal welfare community in Blount County," he said.