Two L.A. Animal Services Commissioners have resigned within two weeks and six Captains were put on administrative leave by new GM Brenda Barnette, who has no animal control or law-enforcement experience. These sudden events mask even deeper problems for L.A. Animal Services. The City Council has not called for an investigation, and the Mayor seems preoccupied with national issues. Has the “humane capital” of the world lost its focus?
On February 17, 2012, Commissioner Theresa “Terri” Macellaro resigned from the Los Angeles Animal Services Commission. Macellaro is an animal activist and attorney who lists on her site that she has represented local governments such as the City of Los Angeles, and celebrities including Arnold Schwarzenegger and Brad Pitt. Macellaro also serves on the Bernheim Foundation Board of Directors. The Daily News states that during a brief interview, Ms. Macellaro confirmed her resignation, “…but she declined to explain her decision.”
Earlier this month, Ruthanne Secunda, of Much Love Rescue and a Hollywood talent agent, quit the Commission under pressure from an outspoken critic who brandished copies of a citation issued to her by an LAAS officer for failure to license her three dogs for years and then voting to cut penalties for owners of unlicensed dogs. She later announced at a Commission meeting that she had reported to court as required and had paid the delinquent licensing fees. The activist accused GM Brenda Barnette of trying to have the citation rescinded by LAAS staff, a claim Barnette denied.
A third Commissioner, President Melanie Ramsayer, a talent agent for the Gersh Agency, has also been the target of criticism at the meetings. She is accused of gaining the appointment because she is a close friend of the Mayor’s girlfriend, Lu Parker, Channel 5 News reporter.
Ramsayer’s photo appears as a Team Member on the Lu Parker Project website. A City Hall newcomer, she was appointed to the Commission on 10/12/09 and the agendized election of officers was delayed until December, at which time she was elected President.
WHAT DOES A CITY COMMISSION DO?
All Los Angeles Commissioners are charged with overseeing City Departments to protect the public interests and are personally appointed by the Mayor under the 2001 Charter Amendment. In the case of Animal Services, the Commission is actually the head of the Department. The Deputy City Attorney explained at the last meeting that the Commission has no control over personnel or internal policy decisions, but it is their job to manage the General Manager.
LA ANIMAL SERVICES OUT OF FOCUS
Los Angeles’ multi-tasking Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa serves as President of the U.S. Council of Mayors and was just appointed to head the national Democratic Convention. But, not to worry, assures spokeswoman Sarah Sheahan in the Daily News on 2/20/12, "The mayor…is focused on the job he loves - being the mayor of Los Angeles and nothing more."
Lately it appears Mayor V. has lost focus on the importance and purpose of the Department of Animal Services (LAAS). Or, is the desecration of this State-mandated public health/safety agency the Mayor’s real goal in hiring GM Brenda Barnette, along with dissipation of the $154 million being paid by Los Angeles taxpayers to provide modern full-service animal shelters citywide for homeless pets?
The new $19-million North East Valley (Mission) shelter has already been gifted by the Mayor and City Council for use by Best Friends Animal Society at no rent/utilities free. GM Brenda Barnette and Commissioner Terri Macellaro are both on the Steering Committee for the Best Friends’ “No More Homeless Pets” program and testified for swift approval of this contract.
Although Best Friends reported $51 million in income in 2009, Los Angeles city taxpayers are footing the bill for this major non-profit corporation. Another Request for Proposal has just been issued to attract an outside contractor to take over a second L.A. animal shelter.
SIX LAAS CAPTAINS PLACED ON LEAVE WITH NO CHARGES
Further questions as to the Mayor’s focus on L.A. Animal Services arose on Sunday, February 12, 2012, when a decision was made by General Manager Brenda Barnette to place six Animal Services Captains on paid administrative leave during an investigation over shelter vending-machine contracts.
With no notice other than badges that no longer opened the city shelter gate or the sudden blackout of their computers, or Barnette’s terse call to their homes on their day off, L.A. Animal Services lost its entire upper level of field management and about 150 years of irreplaceable hand-on experience in safeguarding animals and residents of the 469-square-mile area of the city of Los Angeles.
The Daily News reports, “The six captains were being investigated for engaging in a long-standing shelter tradition of negotiating informal contracts with vending machine companies in exchange for shelter benefits, according to a highly placed Animal Services official.”
There was no secret about the vending machines, which reportedly have provided $20 to $30 a month to the shelter, used as petty cash for animal-event decorations, prizes and pizza for workers and volunteers.
GM Brenda Barnette signed an amended policy in February 2011, granting Captains permission to earn shelter money through recycling or machine vending, as long as they kept records. Now they are being investigated by LAPD Burglary Crimes Division.
Dana Bartholomew of the Daily News explained, “None of the captains was accused of pocketing cash from the vending machine kitty, sources said…They were told they had violated a state conflict-of-interest law that says workers can't personally benefit from contracts they implement.” They were told by a police detective that their crime was eating pizza at the shelter they'd helped buy by contracting for the vending machines.
At the Commission meeting on February 14, Barnette briefly said that she was working closely with Mayor Villaraigosa’s office, personnel department and…We have been working with the city psychologist on how to manage change." She made it clear that the psychologist is not available to help the Captains who are on leave. “They have their own resources,” she said.
Victor Gordo, attorney for the union which represents the Animal Control Captains told the Daily News, “There has been no misconduct on the part of these employees, and much like the erroneous allegations of missing guns, these allegations will prove to be untrue."
The report explains, “Last year, Los Angeles Animal Services officers were stripped of their guns during a weapons audit that turned up no missing firearms. Other officers were expected to be cleared by a city audit report released today of accusations of falsifying time cards.”
ARE “WITCHUNTS” AN EFFECTIVE MANAGEMENT TOOL?
On August 4, 2011, Los Angeles Police Department officers conducted an unannounced early-morning weapons raid on all six L.A. City animal shelters, initiated by GM Barnette, who sent a note with the police telling her employees, “Please give LAPD any and all hand guns, rifles, shotguns and ammunition that are at your shelter.”
Was this just an “inventory,” as Ms. Barnette later told reporters in the resulting media frenzy? Or was it a ploy by Barnette to erode public and officials’ confidence in LAAS employees and cover up her own inability to effectively manage L.A. Animal Services? No guns were found missing and there had been no reports of inappropriate use of firearms or ammunition.
SO WHO IS IN CHARGE OF LAAS SHELTERS NOW?
Barnette, a former dog breeder and AKC Legislative Representative in Seattle--and with no prior animal-control, law-enforcement or City-government experience--fired both LAAS Assistant General Managers within a few months after her arrival, including a 20-year veteran who handled budgeting and policy administration. The Mayor’s office looked on.
As her new Director of Field Operations she chose an outsider, Mark Salazar, although there were experienced Captains on the list. (She also promoted a female Captain as a Director, but then put her on leave for the current “pizzagate” investigation.) Mark Salazar is now in charge of all LAAS field operations and shelters.
What made Mark Salazar stand out on a list of potential senior staff hopefuls? Salazar had a brief stint as an entry-level animal control officer in the LA area over ten years ago. Most recently his resume included a front-page suit against himself and Riverside, CA, for sexual harassment and discrimination, filed by five code enforcement officers Salazar supervised in 2008. (Press Telegram, 3/19/08 and 10/6/08.)
Just before coming to LAAS, according to news reports, Mark Salazar resigned as Director of the small Northeast Texas Humane Society in Longview, on the heels of headlines in Newsjournal.com (10/14/10) “Dispute grows over contract with Humane Society” and “Open the Books: Humane Society unwillingness to open records raises questions. (10/17/10). The article states that the Humane Society refused the request of the city which funds it to conduct an audit of its finances.
NO MISSING DOGS OR FALSIFIED TIME CARDS
On June 2, 2011, Brenda Barnette announced to the media that up to 64 dogs were missing from LA Animal Services kennels, but she later admitted that “clerical errors may be partly to blame...” She did not mention that she had ordered keys to the kennels issued to volunteers over the protests of senior shelter staff who said they would not be able to monitor and insure the safety of either animals or humans in the shelters. LAPD was called in by Ms. Barnette to solve the missing-pooch mystery.
And there was the public assurance of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s office that, “the Animal Services Department has asked for help investigating the matter.”
By July 14, 2011, LAPD attention had expanded to alleged timecard fraud by a kennel supervisor. L.A. Times headlines blared, Los Angeles Animal Services: Probe of L.A. Animal Services agency widens…Personnel investigators try to figure out if [ten employees] time.cards were filled out fraudulently.”
As the Daily News reported, employees were cleared of accusations of falsifying time cards by the City Controller’s Audit released February 20, 2012 (below).
CONTROLLER SLAMS L.A. ANIMAL SERVICES IN NEW AUDIT (2/16/12)
The day Commissioner Terri Macellaro resigned and while all the LAAS Captains are still on leave at an estimated cost of about $42,000 a month, with no charges filed, Controller Wendy Greuel released an audit of L.A.'s Department of Animal Services, blasting the fact that there has been no improvement during the past two years in the city shelter system in terms of its systemic lax controls and improper tracking.
Greuel states in the release that the Department did not take an accurate inventory of its animals and that it failed to collect $1.3 million in potential revenue from dog owners over the last two years. The audit also found $125,000 missing over the past two years in the microchipping program.
There is no accusation of employees falsifying timecards, and it appears the claim of missing dogs may rest in faulty accounting methods, rather than employee misconduct.
(Author’s Note: Controller Greuel should add into her audit the accounting for shelter kennel keys to determine how many volunteers and outside organizations have been given access to the animals by GM Brenda Barnette.)
What the Controller does not take into account in the lost revenue and missing animals is that Ms. Barnette is transporting hundreds of animals out of California, with large numbers going regularly to her former employer, Seattle Humane Society, and a veterinarian with a newly formed 501.c.3 status near Seattle. In addition, many L.A. Animal Services dogs are, sadly, being trucked to Canada, where there is no monitoring of their distribution or ultimate fate.
BARNETTE HIRED TO LOWER L.A.’s EUTHANASIA RATE?
Aside from embarrassing public errors in judgment, what has notably punctuated Brenda Barnette’s performance as General Manager of Los Angeles Animal Services:
-- failed adoption programs;
--failed foster plans (e.g., keeping shelter animals in garages, basements and bathrooms)
--an alarming absence of emphasis on spay/neuter emphasis to curb pet overpopulation and lower impounds and euthanasia; and
-- decreased dog license collection.
Confronted with the Controller’s audit, Councilman Paul Koretz, who was a key player in the hiring process which selected Barnette and who praised her enthusiastically at the Mayor’s June 17, 2011, news conference, defended her ongoing failure:
“I think she believes she was hired to help lower our euthanasia rate and she found all these other problems. I think she was surprised at the number of these kinds of problems to deal with.”
And, to which “problems” was Koretz referring? Did Ms. Barnette not realize she is paid $182,000 a year to be the General Manager of one of the world’s largest animal control agencies?
It appears that most of the problems which diverted Ms. Barnette’s attention were merely “witchunts.” Any management job can be overwhelming if you either remove or place all your knowledgeable and experienced employees on leave!
BARNETTE ADOPTIONS AND EUTHANASIAS (LAAS stats)
Let’s compare the 2009-2010 year to the most recent 12 months. Again, the numbers clearly and without deviation are trending the wrong way.
DOWN....and should be up!
Adoptions Feb 2009 - Jan 2010: 21,643
Adoptions Feb 2011 - Jan 2012: 19,380
UP....and should be down!
Euth Feb 2009 - Jan 2010: 19,589
Euth Feb 2011 - Jan 2012: 22,916
Intake Feb 2009 - Jan 2010: 54,011
Intake Feb 2011 - Jan 2012: 57,811
Councilman Paul Koretz also recently made the odd addition of “Animal Welfare” to his Personnel Committee (Personnel and Animal Welfare Committee) and removed L.A. Animal Services from oversight by the Council’s Public Safety Committee.
“FRIENDS OF L.A. ANIMAL SHELTERS”
Just because Ms. Barnette hasn’t successfully achieved LAAS management goals doesn’t mean she has not been busy since she took over the department.
On November 15, 2011, a CA Public Records Act request was made by the author for any contract or Memorandum of Understanding with a not-for-profit organization named, “Friends of L.A. Animal Shelters.” Ms. Barnette had mentioned several times in Commission meetings that she was starting a non-profit but no details were provided.
A visit to the group’s website on November 14, 2012 (and before) showed on the “Donate” page:
"Friends of L.A. Animal Shelters is the fundraising arm of the city shelters. If you give directly to the city, there is no guarantee your money will reach the animals. Any money donated to us is guaranteed to go directly to the animals." (flaas.org 11/14/2011)
(Note: This wording was changed soon after the CPRA was received by the City.)
Address on website: Friends of L.A. Animal Shelters, 31368 Via Colinas #105, Westlake Village, California 91362 (No names of officers under “About Us.”)
The California Secretary of State Business Portal showed:
FRIENDS OF LA ANIMAL SHELTERS - C3334097
Date Filed 12/02/2010
Entity Address: 2804 Gateway Oaks Dr., Ste. 200, Sacramento CA 95833
Agent for Service of Process: **RESIGNED ON 6/23/2011
The Attorney General’s Registrant Information lists FRIENDS OF LA ANIMAL SHELTERS at 2804 Gateway Oaks Dr., Ste. 200, Sacramento CA 95833, as a “Charity” with a Registration Status of “Not Registered.”
Response to public records request to the City Administrative Officer on November 18, 2011, states, “…we have searched our files and records regarding the above items and have not located any documentation concerning any agreements, contractual or otherwise, and communications…between the Friends of L.A. Animal Shelters and the City of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Department of Animal Services.”
The Deputy City Attorney assigned to LAAS responded on 12/2/2011: “We do not have any contract, MOU or written agreement to the best of our knowledge.”
CAN WE JUST BE “FRIENDS?
Following are a few excerpts from Ms. Barnette’s voluminous e-mails and other documents obtained from the public information request. She was not the only City official involved in setting up the Friends of L.A. Animal Shelters. The CPRA request made directly to L.A. Animal Services resulted in 187 pages of documents and e-mails by and to Ms. Barnette regarding setting up the organization and fundraising. Most were cc’d to Commissioner Macellaro, who also participated in the project.
The June 6 Friends of LA Animal Shelters Board Minutes, state, “…the Sacramento address currently appearing on the website is the address of a service Terri Macellaro had contracted with for the group when the initial State filing was made….”
In the August 6, 2011, Board Minutes, it states: “Ms. Macellaro has recommended potential board members.”
Excerpt from the Friends of L.A. Animal Shelter’s Project Overview:
“Dogs and cats will be transported daily between LA Animal Services West LA Shelter and the Westside Pavillion…Pet related retail items will also be sold allowing the store to become self sustaining over time.”
LAAS PERMIT REQUIRED FOR PET SHOPS
Although the organization indicates in the e-mails that it first intended to open in November, it actually did not open until December 3, 2011. .
All pet shops within the City of Los Angeles must be inspected and approved by an officer of Los Angeles Animal Services. .Contained within the public records request response was the application for the pet shop permit, filed from Sacramento and accompanied by a Friends of L.A. Animal Shelters check from a Sacramento branch of Comerica. Oddly, the application was dated October 23, 2011, it had no approved inspection signature, and the permit which was issued was personally signed by Brenda Barnette on 1/30/2012—almost two months after the original opening.
Here’s Ms. Barnette’s e-mail to Captain Louis Dedeaux, of the West LA Animal Shelter (11361 W. Pico Blvd.) and Director of Field Operations Jan Selder (both of whom were placed on administrative leave on February 12 for the alleged vending machine conflict of interest.)
“Louis, FLAAS did rent the store front at the Westside Pavillion that I mentioned and they will provide a daily MPA for shelter animals. To make it easier, I think all the animals should come from one shelter and then you can re-fill as needed. So we’ll need to provide highly adoptable dogs and cats who are spayed and neutered…FLAAS will be hiring part-time managers and I will help them recruit volunteers from our volunteer pool who can help with the adoptions.”
“My hope is that staff can deliver dogs and cats each morning and that a volunteer can return animals to the shelter who have not been adopted each day when the store closes. This will require a volunteer who can drive our City trucks.”
(Author’s note: Part of the CPRA request was for the insurance contract that covered such an arrangement. The City Attorney and LAAS responded that they had no such document.)
It is also important to note that a pet-adoption store at the Westside Pavillion is not a new concept. The SPCA-LA offered pet adoptions in this same venue from 1998 to 2004, ending when the Pavillion was remodeled.
Tom Rogan of AuthenticTV, which produces such successful reality shows as “Toddlers and Tiaras,” served as President of FLAAS. In an October 7, 2011, e-mail to a prospective donor, he wrote:
“I’ve created a budget that details the startup costs for the store, as well as the monthly costs necessary to fund the store until the end of our six month lease….I’ve previously donated $10,000 to the retail store. If you’re comfortable donating $20,000, I’ll donate another $10,000, thereby matching your total donation. I feel this level of funding, along with the other fundraising we’re doing, should be adequate to get the store off the ground and give it a good chance of success.”
The PDF file on FLAAS Retail Store Costs shows totals at:
$19,750 Startup Costs
37,600 Total Operating Costs, 5 months
57,350 Total Funding Needed
In setting up the lease at the Westside Pavillion on May 19, 2011, Mr. Rogan writes, “…I’m on the board of a non-profit called “friends of LA Animal Shelters…the non-profit was set up at the request of Brenda Barnett, the current head of the LA Shelter system…"
A November 7, 2011, e-mail from Michael Bouson of AuthenticTV to Tom Rogan stated, “I’d really like to hire our Full-Time Store Manager (name) to start this Wednesday.”
(All solicitations and the FLAAS website indicate that this would be “volunteer-run.”)
The minutes of the November 5, 2011, meeting provide the Financial Report by Amber Yoo, Treasurer (an employee of Ms. Barnette at the Seattle Humane Society), which states:
“As of last night, the Comerica bank account has a balance of $26,152.82. The October 6 launch party grossed $9,100…Earmarked funds include $14,108.71 for LA Loves & Leashes and $2,141.36 for Marketing, leaving $9,902.75 for general operating funds.” (All solicitations for money on the website and otherwise state that donations will be used for shelter animal medical care and other items directly for the animals.)
Another mover and shaker was Bobby Dorafsher of K-9’s only, a dog trainer who has two business locations in the City of Los Angeles, one in Tarzana and one at 2040 S. Cotner Ave. (1.05 mi. from the pet store). He is also founder of a non-profit called New Leash on Life.
According to the minutes of August 6, 2011, Mr. Dorafshar was serving as the Committee Chair for the adoption center leased in the Westside Pavillion, named L.A. Loves & Leashes. Mr. Dorafsher hosted the Launch Party on October 6.
Donor packages of up to $50,000 are planned to be offered by the Friends of LA Animal shelters according to their documents. Regardless of the good intent, it would seem that the General Manager and a Commissioner who claims to have represented cities such as Los Angeles should have assured that City rules and policies were being observed in setting up a non-profit organization supposedly strictly for the purpose of raising money for L.A. shelter animals.
WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR FOCUSING THE MAYOR ON THESE ISSUES?
The Mayor’s Deputy Jim Bickhart is assigned to monitor all LAAS activities. It is obvious that this is a Department that is out of control.
Let’s hope that Mayor Villaraigosa, who rose to political power as a voice for the rights of workers and recently for his love of animals, does the right thing for both.