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More Than 100 Crowd Healdsburg Animal Shelter Forum

Critics complain that board declines questions.

 

Public comments at Wednesday night's forum on the ran the full range from "Best damn shelter that I work with," to "People have lost a sense of fundamental trust with the board."

In what was probably the best-attended board meeting in the shelter's 51-year history, about 100 people packed into the to air grievances, express concerns, ask questions and to give praise.

"You don't realize how good you have it here in Healdsburg," said Carrie Marvin of Windsor, a full-time volunteer coordinator between animal shelters and rescue groups across the state. "Other places in the state have 40 percent euthanasia rates -- yours is 4 percent (in 2011).

"Other places are euthanizing animals for lack of space," Marvin added. "Healdsburg Animal Shelter is the best damn animal shelter that I work with in the state."

Athough board members declined to respond verbally to any questions at the meeting, Board President Kathleen McCaffrey said all written questions submitted Wednesday would be answered and that people could also email their queries to the board at questions@healdsburgshelter.org.

McCaffrey said the boundaries were necessary to prevent verbal attacks on board members or staff in the wake of a series of bitter public controversies late last year involving the and the

"We all have a common goal -- to provide homes for the animals,  creating bonds, saving lives," McCaffrey said. "We're at a pivotal stage of transformation where our mission is to earn and keep the trust of the community."

McCaffrey said the shelter is creating a citizens advisory committee to improve public feedback channels under the leadership of Healdsburg resident Yvonne Kreck, formerly of the Healthcare Foundation of Northern Sonoma County. Anyone interested in serving on the committee may send a note to the same email address, questions@healdsburgshelter.org.

"I hope tonight you get the beginning of the clarity you all deserve," said Shelter Executive Director Julie Seal. She outlined a  series of 2011 successes: triple the number of adoptions,  euthanasia rates decreased from 7 percent to 4 percent, going from a $225,000 operations budget deficit at the end of 2010 to an $80,000 positive balance at the end of 2011.

"My focus since I started the job (on Jan. 26, 2011) has been on the survival of the shelter operations," Seal said. "I have had no responsibility over the new shelter or the fundraising campaign for the new shelter."

But some audience members said they were disappointed in the meeting format. They said they had expected more give and take, more answers to questions and a full screening of shelter finances and a progress report on the new $3.5 million shelter building.

"I'm shocked at the way you've organized this meeting," said Mike DeCoss, whose wife Beth DeCoss is a 10-year volunteer at the shelter. "To have comments only, and no questions -- you're shutting things down, it's unconscionable."

McCaffrey said that, on the advice of the shelter attorney Maureen Corcoran, all questions must be submitted in writing and would be answered at a later date.

Healdsburg Vice Mayor Susan Jones said she was "stunned" that the board went into closed session for their business meeting after the public forum without disclosing financial details on fundraising for the new shelter.

"I understand that they're not responding to questions -- on City Council, we don't respond to questions either during the public comment period," said Jones, former Healdsburg Police Chief and a dog owner.

"However, I expected to hear a report on the issues about the new building fundraising," said Jones, adding that she and her friends had hosted successful fundraisers and "I'm just curious where all the money has gone," she said.

"They're doing all the business in closed session," she said. "It's a transparency issue."

McCaffrey said later that the new shelter building finances and fundraising were still being reviewed by an independent consultant and his report was not yet available. Similarly, a consultant on the shelter's construction was still reviewing the building's plans to see what needs to be done to finish it.

"We don't have that information yet," McCaffrey said of Jones' questions. "As soon as we get it, we'll be putting it out to the public."

Toni Lisoni, a 10-year Healdsburg resident who said she shared the community's passion about its animals, said she realized that confrontation was "uncomfortable" in such a setting. However, she told the board members she felt compelled to voice her concerns about remarks she has heard in the community about internal strife at the board level.

"I've been told the board's completely dysfunctional," Lisoni said. "I've been told that people just leave instead of standing up to the president.

"There's been so much unrest and grief, that people have lost a sense of fundamental trust with the board," Lisoni added.

"This is not about the shelter's volunteers or its staff," Lisoni said. "It's about a lack of trust for its oversight."

McCaffrey said she was surprised to hear Lisoni's remarks and is meeting Thursday with Lisoni to discuss the specifics.

"I stand by all the years I've put into this shelter," McCaffrey said after the meeting.

"I've been talking to Toni, and the things she's heard are not the truth," she said. "I stand by what I've done, and I'm looking forward to clarifying the misconceptions."

Along with the critics, several people in the audience were brought to tears of gratitude when they talked about the caring staff and volunteers at Healdsburg Animal Shelter.

"I've had dogs that are languishing at Berkeley Animal Shelter for months," said Laurie Wagner, who works at the Berkeley shelter.

"I bring them to Julie, and they're adopted just like that," she said.

Wagner teared up when she talked about Seal's success in adopting out a disabled dog that Wagner had brought in.

"She adopts out dogs with special needs," she said.

Similarly, Jennifer Cadd said she has adopted two dogs from Healdsburg shelter and had nothing but praise for the staff and volunteers.

Even when Healdsburg Animal Control Officer Ryan Pelleriti came to her house after an incident, she said she found the learning she received from Pelleriti to be invaluable.

"If you want a volunteer for a new board member, I'll do it," she said.

Keri Brenner (Editor) January 12, 2012 at 06:56 AM
From Carol Noack via email: "I have to say I'm appalled that Kathleen McCaffrey, president of the HAS board, reneged on her promise of transparency. In a Patch story a couple of weeks ago she addressed your readers in the spirit of openness, but then held the entire January board meeting in "closed session." And although many in the community agreed that the public should be able to ask questions, they were denied that opportunity at the PR session that was supposed to be a board meeting. Instead, the many interested community members who attended the meeting were told they could each write down questions that would be answered individually. Looks suspiciously like an attempt at "divide and conquer," enabling them to mull over how to answer each question with the best possible spin rather than talking straight-up to all the people looking for insight and answers. Loud alarms are going off in my head."
Janice Torres January 12, 2012 at 05:05 PM
Audits are being done and the results will be made public. It is my understanding that the building/construction fund is totally separate from the operating fund (as it should be) and that the Treasurer had all those (construction) records. Those and the records from the day-to-day operating account are being looked at as they have become available to the independent auditor. I would rather have a full report than speculation and/or a rushed job.
Madeline Wallace January 12, 2012 at 06:25 PM
I’m confused. I thought I lived in the USA. Meeting, you will sign in, wear a name-tag, be videotaped, & you will not ask public questions. Kathleen McCaffrey spoke of the board being more transparent, re-writing by-laws to include terms limits, George Meier to review phase 2 of new shelter (attendee implied current design does not allow for an isolation area – wrong?). Isn’t Kathleen the one who ignored the HAS by-laws 2 year term limits & remained as President, then had them changed so she could stay – for the past 8 yrs? Isn’t she the one who has refused to share the shelter’s financials; they have monthly rpts, 2010? I’m confused. Isn’t this the same Board who has sat there for years approving everything re the new shelter? Isn’t George Meier the architect who designed the Sonoma Humane Society building that I thought Julie had said might be in risk of closing after they opened that new building?? New atty there – donor $s well spent. Isn’t this the same Brd that chose NOT to do a fundraiser for HAS Ops in 2010? Why is/was Julie allowed to be a main part of the nominating committee to pick her own boss? Why did the volunteers think Lady was a happy dog not in pain? We all know of the great #s of animals euthanized annually, but also that Healdsburg is the primary funder of this shelter and theirs should come 1st always, as small as the #s are – shouldn’t be hard! I’m still confused. And I do change my doctor when I don’t trust him/her…
austin January 12, 2012 at 06:31 PM
Dog story!!! HealdsburgPatch site might crash today with all the hits.
Keri Brenner (Editor) January 12, 2012 at 07:07 PM
From Jennifer Cadd via email (part 1): After listening to the comments from the audience last night I feel that transparency is not the underlying issue here. The board stated that the numbers that were in question were not yet available. There is an independent consultant putting those numbers together and they were just not complete at this time. I felt like that was not the issue here at all. That was just a smoke screen from a few people who came to the meeting with their own agenda. Julie stated that the shelter was now operating in the black verses the 2010 year of being in a deficit of 220,000. That fact in and of it's self proves that the money IS being handled correctly and I feel personally that is a giant step forward for the shelter. When community members complained that they were not getting their questions answered and that it was "unconscionable" to run a meeting in this fashion I was completely on the side of the board. This forum was more like a lynch mob and the real issue stemmed from one dog and the handling of that case. The questions being answered on the web page is sufficient.
Keri Brenner (Editor) January 12, 2012 at 07:07 PM
From Jennifer Cadd via email (part 2): When I had an opportunity to speak I said, and I'll say it again, we need to put our trust in the professionals and not micro-manage every decision that they make. I have been a resident of Healdsburg for over 29 years and have adopted two dogs from the shelter. I am currently fostering kittens and will continue to support the shelter in any way I can both by fundraising and donating my time. And YES I will be a board member if there is a slot open. I heard one member of the audience call the board "dysfunctional". I think this is so sad to start name calling. I think we can safely say we are all on the same side and that is on the side of the animals.
Osgood Fileding January 12, 2012 at 07:49 PM
Madame Madeline. You ask some very pertinent questions indeed. Why not submit questions to Lady McSeal and Lady McCaffrey and they will get back to either when hell freezes over or when Lady Gaga is described as being too understated; which over comes first.
Beth DeCoss January 12, 2012 at 08:49 PM
Last night I attended the Healdsburg Animal Shelter monthly board meeting, expecting to hear their plans. Rather than hear answers to troubling questions about their recent activities, we were subjected to a “dog and pony show” highlighting shelter accomplishments since the current executive director’s hire. The presentation ended with a “comments only, no questions allowed” session. The audience was then instructed to leave and the board adjourned to a closed session. The Board President has said, in the press, that she wants transparency. Last night was the perfect opportunity for her to walk her talk. Instead, many of the overflow crowd of concerned supporters left feeling angry, discounted and cynical. We all know that the last few months have revealed many issues within the organization. The board asks for our trust, money and time. As long as they insist on operating in secret, they will continue to lose all three.
Carol (Kiki) Noack January 12, 2012 at 09:56 PM
I for one am suspicious about getting real answers to audience questions posted on the web. I look forward to seeing whether the board explains why they opted to pay the ED an extra $250 a month on the side, with no employee taxes taken out of it, in spite of being told it's unethical and likely illegal. I look forward to hearing what percent of the shelter animals put down came from Healdsburg versus hand-picked from other shelters. I look forward to hearing why the ED takes credit for putting the shelter in the black, when the biggest chunk came from the MacMurray Ranch fundraiser run by 2 ex board members and made possible through the generosity of Kate MacMurray and the Gallos. I look forward to hearing why the board opted not to host any fundraiser at all in 2010, which led to the uge deficit. But I doubt I'll see this info on the HAS website. What's your bet?
In the Know January 13, 2012 at 12:05 AM
Didn't McCaffrey DENY allegations in an earlier news article that the new shelter building finances and fundraising were being reviewed by an "independent consultant"? McCaffrey was quoted saying "I stand by what I've done, and I'm looking forward to clarifying the misconceptions." Where were her clarifications last night? Oops...need to run that by the attorney first... If the HAS isn't hiding anything, then why would Maureen Corcoran, their shelter attorney, advise them that "all questions from the public must be submitted in writing and would be answered at a later date"? The HAS needs a whole new Board of Directors. Members that are NOT intimidated by other Board Members with Julie Seal NOT involved in it AT ALL. Although Jennifer Cadd's offer to be on the BofD was generous, HAS needs new unbiased members who are not deeply involved with the current board and staff problems. (Part 1 of 2)
In the Know January 13, 2012 at 12:24 AM
Last night's public BofD meeting was a total waste of time for the public and was more damaging for the HAS - nothing was accomplished except making the public opinion worse, feeling that the HAS is too defensive and obviously NOT open to discussion unless first reviewed and protected by their attorney. Their problems are out of control and their stalling tactics are turning more and more of the public support away from HAS - I personally have no respect for how things are being handled over there. I think since the vice mayor Susan Jones was quoted as being "stunned" at the reactions of the BofD's last night, she should definitely step up to the plate and DO SOMETHING about it - the public wants answers - not to be quoted as being "a lynch mob". (Part 2 of 2)
In the Know January 13, 2012 at 12:27 AM
Austin, this is not another "dog story". It is about how the HAS is being run. If Patch's comments make it crash, that says a lot about how much the public has to say about so much more than a "dog story".
Osgood Fileding January 13, 2012 at 12:47 AM
Oh no! Not another Austin story!
Osgood Fileding January 13, 2012 at 12:52 AM
Jennifer, I happen to know that they do indeed have room since they are now done to four members. Considering it is in the bylaws that number of board members cannot exceed 15 but may not be lower than five, I am sure they would be happy to have someone as unquestioning as yourself. Calling this board "dysfunctional" is like calling pajama jeans sloppy--it is the understatement of the year.
Osgood Fileding January 13, 2012 at 12:57 AM
In the know, you are in the right. Did you see the pictures of this so called "lynch mob"? I saw folks who looked like they came out of a Norman Rockwell painting--I think I saw my grandmother in the back knitting me a cap. Also, McSeal claiming credit for the surplus is mendacious at best. That surplus is largely attributed to two former board members who threw a huge fund raiser at the Freddy Mercury Ranch. While "We are the Champions' might be McSeal's and McCaffrey's favorite song, their theme song should be "I Did it My Way."
In the Know January 13, 2012 at 01:30 AM
Osgood, yes I saw the people there and it's a crime they were treated so badly and were given a "snow job" instead of straight answers. It was a waste of time and hopefully has riled up the public and sponsors now to actually start taking REAL action about what is going on and get some REAL answers, not attorney advised BS. Did you notice the BofD body language in the photos - very defensive! I was so pissed off when I tried to watch the two videos of Julie's "speech" I can't stomach watching them. Do you think she can speak for herself or only read from a speech she probably practiced in the mirror a hundred times? Hers is the worst speech I've ever tried to listen to - worse than Nixon, Carter, Bush & Clinton combined! If they're singing to the tune "I Did It My Way", then they better get ready to "Hit the Highway"!
Osgood Fileding January 13, 2012 at 04:06 AM
A rushed job? I beg your parden Ms. Torrent, but Lady McSeal and her four horsewoman ofthe appcolypse knew about the nature of this meeting months in this advance. How can you even defend the closed nature of this meeting? By the time these records (which by law shall be open to the public due to the fact that this is a non profit enterprise) Justin Bieber will be receiving his AARP magazine in his mail box.
Osgood Fileding January 13, 2012 at 04:09 AM
Kim Novak, you are absolutely right. The surplus of funds is a direct result of two former board member's fabulous fundraising event at Freddy Mercury's ranch located on Westside road. For Lady McSeal to take credit for said surplus is akin to Tim Gunn taking credit for the fact that the Pajama Jean company has gone bankrupt. PS. I loved you in Vertigo.
Osgood Fileding January 13, 2012 at 04:14 AM
In the know, as I posted on The Press Democrat comment section, I am surprised that Lady McSeal and Lady McCaffrey did not attend the meeting armed with a Magic 8 Ball which they would use to answer these concerned animal lovers' questions. I feel bad for the folks who attended the meeting looking for some answers but instead got the ultimate F you. If I wrote my questions down on a sheet of paper, put that paper in a bottle and threw it into the ocean, I expect I would get my answers faster than those who actually followed their insane advice.
Osgood Fileding January 13, 2012 at 04:14 AM
Worse than Sarah Palin even?
In the Know January 13, 2012 at 04:27 AM
Osgood- yes!!!
Osgood Fileding January 13, 2012 at 05:00 AM
Ms Brewer, it is very unusual for a reporter to quote comments from their readers. Why on earth can't these people come in here and post their own comments? I am sorry, but this is not only unprofessional, it smacks of subjectivity and is it not part of the journalism code to uphold the laws of objectivity?
Keri Brenner (Editor) January 13, 2012 at 05:17 AM
@Osgood: Thanks for your concerns about my "quoting" people's comments...That is actually not the case. On both occasions, the commenters had computer issues and were not able to access the Patch comments section themselves, so they emailed their comments to me. You or anyone else may do the same thing if you run into a snag accessing Patch. No subjectivity here -- just being helpful. As you should know, since you like to quote theater, "Things are not always as they seem."
In the Know January 13, 2012 at 06:45 AM
@Keri Brenner: ABSOLUTELY "Things are not always as they seem". I hope your reporting about the HAS problems convince the public, especially after last night "public board meeting" that we need to take action and get the shelter problems straightened out NOW. Too many years have gone by with things only getting worse over there - it's time to stop the craziness before it gets too far out of hand. Please keep reporting on this issue so it doesn't get forgotten or keep falling through the cracks.
Joyce Reynolds January 13, 2012 at 05:15 PM
Dear Osgood and In the Know, who appear to be the same pompous person bantering amongst himself: you may wish to reconsider watching so many old movies, especially Sybil. It is affecting your mental health! These problems have been festering for years. Finally someone with fire and knowledge, someone with a vision, commitment, a real plan, has taken the reins. People are naturally averse to change but it has become glaringly evident the only path to the future is to take the old guard off of life support and bring in new lifeblood. I trust things will be properly resolved. If not, I will join your lynch party! YAAAR, to the gallows for someone and l'chaim for the animals, so many who would not be here if not for Julie and her wonderful staff! To life.
In the Know January 13, 2012 at 10:16 PM
@Joyce- We are not the same people, but we are both pro-life for the animals who need advocates to stand up for them so they aren't lynched aka euthanized. We want/demand change at the HAS and you need to dig deeper into what is going on over there before you criticize us and the other commenters who feel the same as us.
In the Know January 13, 2012 at 10:28 PM
A Must Read: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brown_Act
Peter January 17, 2012 at 04:49 PM
Osgood, I'm starting a fan club for you and as president my first job will be to throw a great big rckin' party at the Freddie Mercury Ranch. Hope you can find time in your busy schedule to put in appearance. You rock!

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