The stakeholders of the city of Los Angeles have anxiously waited for a new General Manager of the Department of Animal Services (LAAS) since the previous GM, Ed Boks, who left his position under pressure over a year ago. This is a city where the animal advocate community is very involved, aware and vocal. People begged and pleaded with the Mayor’s office to let their voices be heard, but the Mayor conducted a closed-door search for this important appointment, actively and intentionally preventing meaningful public input.
On June 17th, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa appointed Brenda Barnette, CEO of the Seattle Humane Society (SHS). According to the Daily News, Villaraigosa said, “Brenda Barnette will bring to the city one of the nation’s strongest portfolios in the area of humane animal shelter management, effective pet adoption and public education programs, and successful community involvement efforts.”
What the Mayor did not realize was that citing Barnette’s high adoption rate as the basis of his decision would challenge his and the selection panel’s credibility, for lack of due diligence.
I’ve been speaking with some of the panelists, and one of them told me the following: A fellow panelist blindly endorsed Barnette, and she is the very person who worked with Nathan Winograd, a "no-kill guru,” who is touted by ADL-LA*, to favor Barnette and convince the Mayor to hire her. As per the Daily News, “One group happy with the selection is the Animal Defense League of Los Angeles (ADL-LA), which has been leading most of the demonstrations at the home of Villaraigosa and his aides involved with the issue.” The endorsing panelist then lobbied other panelists to go to Councilman Paul Koretz who became persuaded to strongly advise the Mayor to appoint Barnette.
I asked this “endorsing panelist” myself some important questions because I wanted to hear the answers from the very person who eventually moved the Mayor to appoint Barnette. I asked her if she has met Barnette, and she said, “No, but I talked to her on the phone twice. She’s very approachable. You should talk to her, too.” I asked her why/how she endorses her, and she said, “I have a good feeling.”
The only “fact” this panelist mentioned as the basis of her endorsement was Barnette’s 92% save rate. She really didn’t have anything with substance to say, as in, how she got the 92% save rate: It turns out that Barnette’s high save rate at a private adoption agency was based on its controlled admissions which cannot predict results at an open-door public shelter. By law, public shelters like LAAS must accept each animal presented to them, while private shelters do not have to accept every animal that people want to surrender.
Most reputable Los Angeles rescue organizations have close to 100% adoption rates for the same reason — If SHS were a municipal animal control, 92% would be phenomenal, but SHS is a privateadoption agency with intake restrictions. In other words, if LAAS closes its door to incoming animals, it can achieve a 100% save rate and become “no-kill” today.
Desperate to somehow satisfy his “no-kill” promise of five years ago, the Mayor again failed to look behind the numbers, just as he did when he hired the disastrous last GM, Ed Boks. What his long-bungling mayoral aide and his high-priced search firm failed to understand is that comparing adoption stats from a private shelter to a municipal shelter is apples-to-oranges foolhardy.
When I talked to the endorsing panelist about certain problems LAAS is facing, she explained that she did not know about anything going on at LAAS because she has been so out of touch. I found it extremely disturbing that someone, who admits to being clueless about current issues at the department, presumes to lobby for any GM candidate and tell city officials what to do.
I’ve addressed some important questions about the yet-to-be-confirmed new GM to this panelist and also ADL-LA, but neither ADL-LA nor this panelist had an answer to any of them. Both harmonically told me how approachable Barnette is and about her 92% save rate (they cannot seem to understand, or accept, the difference between the private and public shelters). I like those qualities, but that does not tell me anything. The previous GM Boks was very approachable and friendly when we first met him, and this panelist and ADL-LA embraced him until the truth about his numbers came out.
What also offended many animal advocates of Los Angeles was that at the June-17th press conference, Barnette, not only admitted her association with the AKC, an organization which represents breeders, but explicitly told the Los Angeles Times her intention of continuing in the future, “I have shown dogs, and you may see me at a show.”
Councilmen Tony Cardenas and Richard Alarcon fought for TWO YEARS, to pass the city’s spay/neuter ordinance, against Pet Pac, an anti-spay/neuter organization. Barnette has been a long-time supporter of Pet Pac. She had listed Pet Pac on her Facebook profile’s “Likes and Interests” until she removed it after it became an issue. Many people have noted that this is blatantly disrespectful to the city. Did she disclose her association with Pet Pac and the AKC during the interview process? Barnette’s résumé filed with the City Clerk has not listed those associations.
What is also frightening to people who care about animals is Barnette’s “pit bull and pit mix policy.” If a pit bull has any history of aggression of any kind for any reason, SHS won’t accept the dog, and they temperament test the few they do take. This is what its Admission Coordinator wrote to an inquirer by e-mail: “If the dog does not pass the assessment we will not place the dog up for adoption. There are no rescue organizations that work with us and pit bulls. If the dog is not an adoption candidate with us the only option is euthanasia.”
In dire contrast, LAAS has to take every pit bull presented — 6,744 in the last year; 678 pit bulls just in the month of March (the last month LAAS reported). This compares to SHS’s total of two as of last week.
The community has begged and pleaded for someone progressive from LA, who knows our city, to be the next GM. The above mentioned panelist and ADL-LA were also vocal about that, yet they pushed for someone “fresh” from outside of Los Angeles. Wasn’t that what we got last time; i.e., Ed Boks?
Above all, these controversies about Barnette’s appointment could have been avoided if the Mayor gave his constituents any transparency. His closed-door process has deprived the city and its constituents of finding out about these issues BEFORE the appointment.
People in Los Angeles are burnt and jaded by one disappointment after another. This is the only city department that has had five General Managers in seven years.
There is a “meet & greet” scheduled for July 11th. An e-mail invitation to the “meet & greet” from Terri Macellaro of Animals Anonymous has been circulating to the community. Ms. Macellaro’s invitation has an crucially misleading statement, “Ms. Barnette’s innovative programs, collaborative leadership style and impressive 92% save rate of all animals entering her open-door shelter,” even though multiple people told Ms. Macellaro that SHS is not an open-door shelter. Ms. Macellaro has not responded when asked why she claims it is.
Macellaro and her fellow event organizers apparently do not, or refuse to, understand the difference between a public shelter and private adoption agency. Remember when Ed Boks tried to restrict hours for dumping animals? People learned real fast what “open door” means. But it looks like they forgot really fast too.
I hope Ms. Barnette does understand the difference because in the most recently reported 12 month period, May 2009 to April 2010, LAAS took in 6,744 pit bulls, with a consistently increasing annual intake since at least fiscal year 2005/2006 (when LAAS impounded 5,401 pit bulls). So, what Macellaro’s invitation is promising is that Barnette will place 6,200 Pit Bulls to loving homes every year.
I am empathetic to Barnette because those who are supposedly helping her are setting her up for failure and depriving her of starting her new job with a clean slate.
At her confirmation later this month, the Council members may or may not address questions that the selection process blatantly neglected to address, but they won’t overturn the Mayor’s appointment unless they discover that Barnette is a felon, which is not likely. In the past, even when it was proven that an appointee lied in his résumé, Councilman Parks commented that he was “concerned,” yet the appointment was confirmed anyway.
In its recent newsletter, ADL-LA threatened, “if any of the City Councilmembers vote NO on her appointment, we are fully prepared to take our protests to THEIR neighborhoods!” Since ADL-LA has been regarded as “terrorists” by the city, some people have alleged that perhaps this is another reason why the Council has agreed to confirm Barnette.
It is every tax payer’s desire to ensure that the city funds are well spent on the new LAAS GM’ssalary, $192,000 a year (vs. Boks’ $181,000) and with city benefits over a quarter million dollars per year.
I want to remain optimistic, and hope that there’s a true miracle for the future of our animals in Los Angeles, and the new LAAS GM will surprise us all.
At the very least, perhaps she will stop consulting with the same people who enabled Ed Boks to create disasters that cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars and cost countless animals’ lives, as well as embarrassing our city and its Mayor.