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 firstname.lastname@example.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, email@example.com.
"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.