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Mon, Jun

Should a Grand Jury Investigate Allegations of Mismanagement at LA Animal Services? 

ANIMAL WATCH

ANIMAL WATCH - There have been months of ignored complaints at L.A. Animal Services Commission meetings by volunteers, staff and the public about the cruel overcrowding, lack of care for the animals—

including dogs not walked for weeks or months—attacks by dangerous dogs, sick and old dogs languishing in kennels and other serious mismanagement of Los Angeles Animal Services shelters.

There are also mounting questions about expenditure of donated money, including for a public relations/fundraising contract reportedly negotiated by the Mayor. 

However, it appears that Councilman Paul Koretz (Chair of the Personnel and Animal Welfare Committee, he created to oversee the Department) and Mayor Eric Garcetti believe they are above reproach.

Some L.A. leaders have reported they are considering asking for a Grand Jury Investigation, based upon the increasing evidence that the City is out of control and animals, especially in shelters, are victims of managerial incompetence.

(SeePit Bull Attack at Los Angeles Animal Services Shelter and Plea to Stop “No Kill” Policy)

On July 25, on CityWatchLA we discussed the fact that Councilman Paul Koretz, LAAS Commission President Larry Gross, Interim-GM Annette Ramirez and ex-GM Dana Brown, cannot avoid personal responsibility for the tragedy of overcrowded City animal shelters and the failure to provide staffing at all times to care for every animal that enters the doors.

On April 21, 2022, Ramirez appeared before the Budget and Finance Committee of the Council and submitted a budget request that she assured Chairperson Paul Krekorian would meet LAAS’ projected 2023 financial and staffing needs. This document was not a draft proposal, but a serious commitment to the City and the animals.

Ramirez did not say she needs more money, as she assured the Budget and Finance Committee that the amount requested by the Department would allow the operation of all the City shelters.

(See: LA Animal Shelters in Neglect. Annette Ramirez Unprepared with Budget Issues.)

Ramirez did not ask the Council for additional staffing to provide basic care such as cleaning kennels, providing food and water for small animals and did not mention that many dogs have not been out of their kennels for exercise, enrichment and play for months, which is one of those commitments.

In fact, she stated that, “The Department is proud of our extraordinary efforts and resilience during a year of continued pandemic-related, unexpected, and financial challenges.”

If more money was needed by LAAS, this was the time for the Interim General Manager to ask for it and justify the request.

BLAMED EMPLOYEE ABSENCES

She gave a recitation of bleak attendance by employees—NOT lack of employees—creating the understaffing that caused the same complaints brought to the Commission, and more recently to Koretz directly, by the volunteers who for years have performed basic acts of love in helping employees care for and exercising confined dogs without compensation—other than the gratitude of the animals.

Koretz immediately attempted to distance himself of any knowledge of problems because the Commission does not report to him, but directly to the Mayor.

Since that budget meeting, one of the most essential and beloved Supervisors, Thomas Kalinowski, who went far beyond just job duties to coordinate volunteer and rescue efforts at the shelter, has resigned due to what he called the “mistreatment of animals” at the Department.

KORETZ TYPICAL RESPONSE - “THROW MONEY AT IT”

After Dakota Smith of the L.A. Times wrote about this on July 16, Koretz had his usual knee-jerk reaction, announcing he will demand more money—money that will come from tax payers and property owners. 

Ignoring the statements of Ramirez that the Department had asked for enough money in 2023 to run all shelters, he appeared to set up an emotional camouflage for his personal inaction in addressing the concerns of mismanagement of the shelters and volunteers.

In a flamboyant presentation to Council, Koretz ordered, “the Department of Animal Services and other relevant city departments and stakeholders to report back in 60 days on the percentage of the city’s annual General Fund expenditures necessary to fully staff the shelters and expand operational hours.”

“It would also explore additional funding options, such as a possible parcel or sales tax, and options for using general obligation bonds,” he stated. (Read here.)

He didn’t seem to remember that Ramirez said money was not the problem—it was employees not coming to work. He also did not ask for a serious investigation of why volunteers are not being allowed to assist and a reinstatement of the volunteer program.

CHANGES TO THE ANIMAL WELFARE TRUST FUND

Another issue of concern to many observers and donors to LAAS is that the original Animal Welfare Trust fund was established in the 1980’s with restricted use of donations to those purposes which improved the life and health of animals in the City’s shelters, but it was changed by GM Brenda Barnette and approved by Paul Koretz as Chair of the Personnel and Animal Welfare (PAW) Committee to include outside activities at the discretion of the General Manager, other than directly related to the condition of the shelters.

See: Are LAAS Animal Welfare Trust Funds Being Misused?

The new Ordinance (CF No. 17-1141) was approved by the Council and signed by the Mayor on June 19, 2018, allows the General Manager of Los Angeles Animal Services to implement ANY new program, other than pet sterilizations (these are funded by the Pet Sterilization Fund).

THE GLUE, INC., AND MAYOR ERIC GARCETTI

In May 2020, we discussed the fact that 94 dog bites/attacks occurred in LAAS animal shelters during 2019. This was up from 59 in 2018 and is more than a 59% increase. The victims were the public, volunteers, and employees.

Dog-Bites Soar at LA Animal Services – Will Shelter Donations Become the Mayor’s New Slush Fund?

In that same article we questioned, “What were then-GM Brenda Barnette and Mayor Eric Garcetti focused on during this time?”

Here’s a quote from the article:

GM Barnette was giddy about working with the Mayor's Office to spend $1,454,000 of the almost $4 million in the Animal Welfare Trust Fund on a contract for new "branding" and a new website to attract bigger donations.

Barnette announced on March 10 that the bids for the "rebranding" contract resulted in selection of THE GLUE, LLC for marketing, fundraising, public relations and website development and management." The posting resulted in eight bidders and a selection was made of the "lowest and most qualified bidder." 

She emphasized that the Mayor's Office has been directly involved in getting the original bid lowered from $2.4 million to $1,545,000, and that this is an all-women owned business.

"The Mayor plans to form a foundation for this organization," LA Animal Services GM Brenda Barnette stated at the meeting.

She also reminded attendees that the money brought in for the AWTF would be under the jurisdiction of the City, "the Commission, Personnel and Animal Welfare Committee and the Council." (Was that supposed to reassure us?)

The GLUE, LLC. Contract was recently agendized for an update at the Commission meeting, which can be heard on the L.A. Animal Services website.

EXCERPTS FROM RESEDA NEIGHBORHOOD COUNCIL (WRITTEN) COMMENTS on 8/15/2022:

The Reseda Neighborhood Council commented that it would like to examine the $1.5 million contract with the GLUE, LLC from December 2020 – December 2023, stating:

It is a highly expensive contract that promised to overhaul the LAAS website and double its fundraising. It has delivered neither.

The website was to be delivered no later than February 2022.

The fundraising for the AWTS has remained flat.

The GLUE has been paid by the City $750,000 for its services so far.

According to the Controller’s website, over 53% of spending from the AWTF in 2021 was solely for this contract rather than direct welfare of animals.

This is not a crisis in resources. It is a crisis in dubious priorities, clear mismanagement and disinterested oversight. (Read entire letter here.)

STATISTICAL REPORT BY LAAS

The 2022 statistics of the L.A. Animal Services shelters can be read here, as well as past years. However, comparing the full year of 2021 to 2020 shows that this City is not headed in the right direction.

The number of intact (unaltered) dog licenses rose 42%, from 1,394 in 2020 to 1,981 in 2021. This was accompanied by a 47% rise in breeders’ licenses, from 1,277 in 2020 to 1,876 in 2021

This indicates that Los Angeles will be seeing even more animals deliberately bred in backyards across the City—and, if the current trend continues, many will be Pit Bulls and large dogs for protection. These puppies are less likely to be spayed or neutered, because of the belief that being unaltered will increase their aggression and also that they can be used for breeding (bringing unreported and untaxed income.

Paul Koretz is largely responsible for this, due to his and former-GM Brenda Barnette’s efforts to remove animal limits and remove the requirement for a kennel permits for more than three dogs per property. These laws not only discouraged breeding operations but also provided safety, disease and noise control for L.A. residents.

This, along with the recent loss by voluntary transfer to other departments and retirement of LAAS most-experienced Animal Control Officers predicts serious public safety risks to L.A.’s most vulnerable communities.

SHELTERS HAVE NO WI-FI AND TWO LACK DOORBELLS

Additionally, the “Finders Keepers” approach to having animals left in the streets, rather than brought to the shelters will continue to add to dogs hit by cars. Even if they are found by a Good Samaritan, the LAAS policy requires an appointment to bring them to the shelter.

At the last Commission meeting, Ramirez admitted that none of the City shelters have Wi-fi and two do not have doorbells to notify employees if someone needs to bring in a lost/found animal at night.

See: LA Animal Services' Plan for ‘Finders’ to Keep Lost Pets OK'd by Council - Scheme or Scam?

A GRAND JURY NEEDS TO LOOK AT DONATIONS

With a balance of $4,112,559.02 in the Animal Welfare Trust Fund and hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations pouring into LAAS through Paul Koretz’ Personnel and Animal Welfare Committee from various large charitable groups ($560,500 so far in 2022, with $110,000 of this being part of a total grant of $560,010), why has it not been used to provide such a basic necessity as a doorbell?

This is a small, but poignant, example of the need for an outside investigation of expenditure of non-designated money.

ANNETTE RAMIREZ’ APPOINTMENT EXTENDED BY MAYOR GARCETTI

In another dubious decision, an August 6 letter to the City Council, signed by Mayor Eric Garcetti, advises:

Pursuant to City Charter Section 508(c), I am appointing Mr. Annette Ramirez as the Interim General Manager, Los Angeles Animal Services, effective upon your confirmation.

Attached please find a copy of Ms. Ramirez’s biography, which provides greater detail about her experience.

Annette G. Ramirez

Annette G. Ramirez has been with Los Angeles Animal Services for twenty-two years. She joined the team as an Animal Care Technician before transitioning to Animal Control Officer. During her time as an Animal Control Officer she enjoyed various assignments, including the Animal Cruelty Task Force, the Licensing Canvassing Unit and the Specialized Animal Rescue Team (SMART). Having been assigned to all six shelters over the course of her career, Annette is familiar with every area of the Department’s business and has continued to gain more knowledge through her acceptance of leadership roles, including Sr. Animal Control Officer, Director of Field Operations, and most recently Assistant General Manager of Lifesaving. (Read the rest here.)

 According to Charter Sec. 508(c), it appears that, with two successive appointments, after six months this would automatically become a permanent appointment.

 WHAT IS MISSING? 

Annette Ramirez has—according to the Mayor’s listed information—never held the position of Shelter Manager. She apparently also does not have a college degree.

Obviously, not being a manager at LAAS was a choice by Ramirez—not a lack of opportunity. The activities in which she has been involved are primarily being part of a group. While those accomplishments can certainly be laudable, management implies individual decision-making, analytics and sole responsibility.

A good manager can adapt to any environment, but a person who has not handled responsibility for decision-making for a 22-year career (especially in a large, multi-faceted agency) may not be the best choice for General Manager of the 2nd largest animal sheltering agency in the U.S.

Most of the experienced animal control and shelter personnel have left, citing their disgust with department leadership’s lack of knowledge and—equally important—the absence of respect for animals, staff, the pubic and the enforcement of laws that protect all.

Pulling LAAS back together as a team is not going to be an easy task and will require trust.

WHAT IS BEING COVERED UP AT LAAS?

Why isn’t a search being conducted for someone with experience commensurate with managing the 2nd largest animal-sheltering system in the U.S.?

Maybe Ramirez might want to think twice before accepting this appointment (other than the rumor that she can secure her retirement at the GM rate by merely spending six months on the job, which perhaps someone can verify or dispel.) Is she willing to risk her 22 years and retirement in a Grand Jury investigation?

And, more importantly, for a salary that exceeds $300,000 per year, don’t the City and the animals deserve a search for the best-qualified applicant, who has spent time to master management skills and can sort through the financial, legal, and moral questions that need to be answered?

Many concerned citizens are suggesting that it is time for a higher power than the City to look into what is causing the problems at L.A. Animal Services and why the City’s elected officials seem to be part of it all.

 

(Phyllis M. Daugherty is a contributor to CityWatch and a former Los Angeles City employee.)

 

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