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Wed, May

Dog Attacks on LA Mail Carriers Soar in 2019 as Animal Services GM Brenda Barnette Plays 'Political Influencer' 

ANIMAL WATCH

ANIMAL WATCH-A Pit Bull crouches in a yard as a mail carrier approaches in the photo on the USPS National Dog Bite Awareness Week News Release (April 14-20), which reports that in 2019, dog attacks in Los Angeles on U.S. Postal Service carriers rose 23.3%.

 This jump from 60 in 2018 to 74 in 2019 also maintains Los Angeles' position as the #2 dog-bite city in the entire U.S

The Los Angeles city increase occurred even though the overall national number declined by over 200 bites. California again ranked as the #1 state in the country with 777 of the national total of 5,803.  

Two other CA cities made the USPS 2019 dog-attack list again--San Diego and Sacramento--but each had fewer bites than last year. Long Beach, which was not on the list last year, rose to 21 attacks on carriers.  

Dog attacks inside Los Angeles city animal shelters also increased 59% last year--jumping from 59 in 2018 to 94 in 2019. The victims were the public, volunteers, and employees. (See report here.)  

Since LA Animal Services is budgeted for almost $50 million next year as a public-safety agency, we have to wonder what GM Barnette is doing to earn her annual $314,534 tax-funded salary. Calsalaries posted this in 2018, with the analysis: "Brenda Barnette's total compensation is 168 % higher than average Los Angeles salary."  

DOG ATTACKS HURT EVERYONE  

These painful figures impact all Californians, because increasingly -- with more violent attacks causing death or extensive damage to victims -- larger insurance payouts result in higher premiums for liability insurance -- whether or not you own a dog.  

If you are a home owner or a renter, you are footing the bill for the costs of Los Angeles Animal Services failing to pick up stray and menacing dogs and releasing many -- especially Pit Bulls -- with a history of aggressive behavior and prior attacks on humans and other animals. 

We also pay for dog attacks in our health-insurance premiums. 

The Insurance Information Institute reported on March 25, 2020, that the average cost paid for dog bite claims nationwide was $44,760 in 2019, up from $39,017 in 2018. 

Nationwide dog-bite claims rose from 17,297 in 2018 to 17,802 in 2019. 

The average cost per claim for dog bites nationally has risen 134 percent from 2003 to 2019.  This is due to increased medical costs and increasing size of settlements, judgments, and jury awards to victims/plaintiffs. 

The report, based on an analysis by Triple-I and State Farm®, states that liability claims related to dog bites and other dog-related injuries cost homeowners' insurers $797-million in 2019. 

Not all dog-related claims which contributed to the Institute's conclusions are for bites.  If your dog--or a dog in your possession or under your care--knocks down a child, a cyclist or an elderly person, for example, those incidents can cause injuries that result in claims and increase insurance company losses. If you do not have adequate insurance to cover the costs, you can be held personally liable. This is something to remember if you take in a stray dog and do not immediately transport it to a shelter. 

Also, many of the above LA shelter bites on employees/volunteers occurred after the victim felt he/she had developed a comfort-level with the dog.  This also explains the increasing attacks on fosters or adopters of dogs with a history of "bad behavior." (See: Pit Bull that Attacked LA 'Foster' Had Known History of Aggression - Can Shelters Escape Liability?)    

CAN YOU AFFORD TO TAKE IN STRAY ANIMALS? 

Some insurance companies require dog owners to sign liability waivers for dog bites, while others charge more for owners of breeds such as Pit Bulls and Rottweilers. Others are not offering insurance to dog owners at all." the Insurance Information Institute advises. 

Homeowners and renters’ policies typically only cover dog-bite liability up to the indicated limits, which usually range from $100,000 to $300,000 and often do not cover the entire costs awarded by a court.  Medical claims and legal costs can quickly exceed that amount in serious dog attacks or injuries. 

Too often the victim incurs all medical expenses, loss of wages/job and costs of other damages, because the dog was roaming and/or the owner is not identified. (See: LA Animal Services GM Barnette Less Than Truthful about the New ‘Finders, Keepers’ Law)  

In CA, which is a strict-liability state, the dog owner is held responsible for the actions of his/her dog, whether or not it is in the owner's possession at the time of an attack. If someone is keeping a dog they found, rather than taking it to the shelter, which is obligated by law and funded to hold and care for lost/stray animals, that individual may also be held responsible for the actions of the dog, according to animal-law experts. 

USPS FINANCIAL BURDEN FOR DOG ATTACKS ON EMPLOYEES 

We also cannot overlook the financial burden on the Postal Service for over 5,000 dog attacks each year, resulting in medical/hospital bills and employees being off work--sometimes too traumatized or physically injured to return to the heavy demands of delivering mail-- all of which causes mailing rates to be raised to cover these costs. 

Postal employees are trained to avoid dog attacks and carry dog spray to try to stop them, but that is not effective on all breed-types.  They also are taught how to use any available item to separate themselves from the lunging or menacing dog, but even then, they are too often unable to stop the bite--or worse. (See:  Man, 21, Shoots and Kills U.S. Postal Service Mail Carrier After Vicious Dog Warnings Issued

SO, WHAT IS LAAS GM BRENDA BARNETTE DOING WITH HER TIME?  

Shelter and employee safety have never been a priority for GM Barnette. But she is very excited about working with the Mayor's Office to spend $1,454,000 from donations to the Animal Welfare Trust Fund on a media-relations contract for "branding” and a new website designed to attract "high-end" donors. It is not clear if the "branding" will be LA Animal Services or GM Brenda Barnette. 

We discussed Barnette's sudden interest in fundraising in conjunction with the Mayor's desire to create a foundation within his office, not audited in the traditional manner of trust accounts by the City. (See: Fostered Pit Bull Attacks LA Dog - Animal Services GM Barnette Plans $1.5-Million Website and  Dog-Bites Soar at LA Animal Services – Will Shelter Donations Become the Mayor’s New Slush Fund?)  

Brenda now seems to have found a new calling as a political or animal-related fundraising "influencer." She posts a large number of political opinions on the two FB pages where she is identified as General Manager of Los Angeles Animal Services and many are posted during normal City business hours. 

She also has facilitated hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts and grants from pet-related businesses. Government agencies have been traditionally restricted from direct solicitation of money because of the influence it can convey to a large donor, organization/company seeking information that can be sold for advertising and soliciting purposes, access to contact pet owners,  and  the opportunity to influence their current and future spending or charitable giving. 

No matter how unrelated (according to Barnette),we can't forget the recent $100,000 donation by the Annenberg Foundation, around the time brochures for their Pet Space exhibit were sent by Animal Services with Los Angeles dog license renewals -- which was merely coincidental, according to Barnette, who also cited a $50,000 gift from Annenberg a year earlier. 

With all this money, why are LA Animal Services shelters so poorly equipped, unkempt, and looking like abandoned warehouses? For example, if Barnette truly cares about the homeless animals she uses to solicit donations, why are thousands of impounded cats and kittens -- which suffer from chronic respiratory infections -- subjected to cheap Oil-Dri automotive oil-spill absorbent from the City's General Services Department, rather than a quality cat litter?  

BRENDA BARNETTE – ‘POLITICAL FUNDRAISER/INFLUENCER’   

Recently we reviewed one of Brenda Barnette's  Facebook pages, which clearly states she is the General Manager of the Los Angeles City Animal Services Department, and we revealed  an LA City Official Posts Nude Photos of Melania Trump on Public Facebook Page 

It also advised  GM Brenda Barnette that, posting nude photos of former model and now-First Lady Melania Trump -- especially on a website where she represents the City and during working hours--is a violation of ethics and sound judgment. 

This also violates Facebook’s "Adult Content" policy by showing nudity. But the nudity seemed to be directed toward shaming President Donald Trump, who is a constant target of ridicule by Barnette. 

 It is GM Barnette's prerogative, on her personal FB page or elsewhere, to take any political stand and express any opinion, but not when she is identifying herself on a public platform as a City official. 

POLITICAL SOLICITATION BY GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES 

Barnette’s political posts or solicitations can be seen on either of her public Facebook pages, but primarily hereShe identifies herself as " Los Angeles City Animal Services General manager • August 2010 to present • Los Angeles, California." 

The head of any City Department SHOULD BE AWARE that CA Government Code Section 3205 prohibits an officer or employee of a local agency from soliciting, directly or indirectly, a political contribution from an officer or employee of that agency, or from a person on an employment list of that agency. (Posts on  public FB pages frequented by employees and where employees are/or can be “friends” may fit into this category, according to legal experts.) 

The Los Angeles City Ethics Commission sets forth that public officials (or other City employees) cannot engage in political activity in the following scenarios: 

— While on duty for the City.  (Many of Barnette's posts are political commentary regarding current candidates and/or for fundraising purposes--some stating, "I just gave..." And some of these solicitations occur during regular City business hours.) 

— Using City equipment, vehicles, supplies, or resources, including but not limited to phones, computers, mailing and distribution lists, electronic mail, and electronic data.  (Is Barnette using her City phone or a City computer for any of these posts?) 

 In any manner that implies you are speaking on behalf of the City or communicating a City position. This may include wearing a uniform or official City insignia or using a City title or position. 

— In a room or building that is owned, primarily paid for, or used by the City and is occupied by a City official or employee in discharging City duties. (Have any of these fundraising ads been posted or forwarded while Barnette is in City Hall or any other City venue?) 

IS BARNETTE ‘POLITICALLY INFLUENCING’ ON FACEBOOK? 

Without her position as General Manager of Los Angeles Animal Services, Brenda Barnette  probably would not have much influence on politics or fundraising anywhere.  

So, is she attempting to “brand” herself while she is still in this position so that her opinions will be sought as an independent entity after she retires? One problem may be that other than the few national Democratic candidates and causes she supports, most of her political posts are negative and some -- like the nude photos of Melania Trump -- show a decided lack of good judgment. That does not bode well for an aspiring "influencer." 

I am not copying any of Barnette's endorsed ads, solicitations or political statements here, to avoid giving them exposure, but are easily found and accessed by searching her name. (They have also been copied and filed.) 

Here are descriptions of a few:  

On June 2, Commission President Larry Gross posted a side-by-side photo of Adolf Hitler and President Donald Trump, captioned, "IS THERE REALY A DIFFERENCE? NEVER AGAIN! This was above a statement, "Never Again! "Black Lives Matter!" Why would Brenda Barnette be sharing this during working hours on Wednesday, June 3 at 12:48 p.m. (regular City business hours)?  

On June 16 (Tuesday) at 10:19 a.m. she posted "I just gave to the National Democratic Training Committee!  WE TRAIN DEMS) -- RUN FOR OFFICE. Again, there is the invitation to donate,  led by Brenda's example.  

On June 17 (Wednesday) at 4:59 p.m. Barnette posted an ad for Nancy Pelosi, which appears to be a repost from May 27 (Wednesday) at 11:24 a.m. states, STAND WITH NANCY -- CHIP IN --  RUSH IN A DONATION -- Help Nancy hold Trump Accountable. . . 

There are two ads for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez which appeared in May 2020. The first is a Chip-In for donations. The latest states that "the clock is clicking down on our Primary on Tuesday" and "Help Us Win Our Re- Election -- Donate Now." 

On June 17, at 12:04 a.m. GMT, GM Barnette posted on her Facebook page a solicitation for a "Chip-In to RSVP" -- "Join Joe and President Obama for a grassroots fundraiser  for Joe Biden." 

ENOUGH. . . 

It appears that GM Brenda Barnette has plenty of time for "political influencing" and fundraising while our tax dollars are paying her salary. She is well-compensated for the time she is on the City’s payroll but apparently frequently engaged in outside interests. 

Barnette recently told the Commission she is planning to not pick up strays and to leave lost pets in the “community" to be taken in by strangers, calling this a "PetsAlive “program,” rather than a dereliction of duties. 

For Barnette's very generous salary, aren't taxpayers entitled to more attention to this City -- which is what she signed up for? And, don't the helpless animals that are not being picked up from the streets, not getting spayed/neutered, and not being assured a safe future, need and deserve an Animal Services Department that is concentrated fully on Los Angeles and their lives?

 

(Phyllis M. Daugherty is a former City of LA employee and a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.