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Are LAAS Animal Welfare Trust Funds Being Misused?

ANIMAL WATCH-At the February 26, 2019 meeting of the Los Angeles Animal Services Commission, appointed by Mayor Eric Garcetti, two of the three expenditures on reports for which General Manager Brenda Barnette was asking approval did not include an estimated cost or dollar limit. These omissions were brought to the attention of the Commission by a member of the public prior to consideration of the items. 

Barnette advised them that the first Item 6A (a Request for Proposal) doesn't require an estimate of cost. This is because they will be informed later of her recommendation as to whom the contract should be awarded. The report states any contract will be paid by the Animal Welfare Trust Fund (AWTF) -- a donation fund, which is designated to improve conditions in shelters. 

And, she advised that the absence of the intended expenditure for money for Item 6B (an analytics subscription) which would also come from the Animal Welfare Trust Fund -- was an oversight. Do we believe her? 

"REBRANDING" LAAS WITH ANIMAL WELFARE TRUST FUND MONEY 

Barnette informed the Board that her request for proposal (Item 6-A) to "Release Marketing, Fund Raising, Public Relations and Website Development / Management Services" is necessary because, "The experience, time and resources needed to implement an LAAS rebranding, website development and management and fundraising outreach program are not within the scope of current [LAAS] resources." 

The last line of her report reads: "UPON completion of the RFP process, LAAS will make a recommendation to the Board of Animal Services Commissioners which will include contract cost and a contract award recipient." 

After analysis of all submitted RFP's, contract cost will be established and will be funded by the Animal Welfare Trust Fund. 

Rebranding the LA City Animal Services Department that has an antiquated phone system which will not be replaced for at least two years and shelters which are overcrowded with Pit Bulls that have been maintained for months is the responsibility of the City, not donors -- unless the money donated is specifically designated for that purpose. 

One of the clearest commentaries on DAS management under Barnette and Mayor Garcetti is the dismal 2.2-star rating about service on its own website and the disturbing number of experienced, dedicated Animal Control Officers who have recently voluntarily transferred out of LA Animal Services, taking years of expertise in handling animals and difficult and sensitive human situations to Street Services and other LA departments. 

Barnette blames her inability to respond to emergency calls to the fact she’s having difficulty hiring new officers. Could the reputation of mismanagement at LA Animal Services play a part in that? 

TRENDKITE, INC. - ANNUAL SUBSCRIPTON (Item 6B) 

Barnette explained to the Commission at the Feb. 26 meeting that the Department needs to subscribe to Trendkite, Inc. to "streamline our public relations outreach, tracking and monitoring efforts," adding, "The Department is committed to increasing our brand awareness...." She also said that sometimes LAAS is asked for statistics and that the Board is being asked to renew this subscription for somewhere between $7,000 and $8,000 per year

This is money that will come from the Animal Welfare Trust Fund. 

She didn't mention that Trendkite appears to also be involved in promoting -- or "branding" -- Best Friends Animal Society. 

However, on the Trendkite promotion for the LA 2019 AUTO SHOW, under Celebrity Appearances it shows a photo of a "Best Friends Kissing Booth."  

TRENDKITE - Subaru + Best Friends Animal Society - Stop by the Subaru booth located in the West Hall . . .Donations are welcome and all proceeds will go to Best Friends Animal Society. Everyone wins when we Share the Love! 

BEST FRIENDS AND BRANDGENUITY 

According to a February 12, 2019, article by License Global, "Best Friends Animal Society has selected Brandgenuity as its licensing agent." 

"As agent, Brandgenuity will expand the Best Friends brand into pet care, grooming, enrichment, pet services, apparel, accessories, home, travel, kids/teen and more," the article reads. 

Best Friends total income in 2011 (the year it took over the L.A. Mission Shelter rent-free) was $49,749,941. In 2015 Propublica / nonprofits shows their revenue had increased to $91,506,446.  

In March 2018, Julie Castle, new CEO announced, "Today, Best Friends is a $130 million organization with locations in Kanab, Salt Lake City, New York, Atlanta and Los Angeles, with programs in “nearly every state." 

SHOULD LAAS ANIMAL WELFARE TRUST FUND MONEY BE SPENT ON 'REBRANDING'? 

The absence of the clear indication of cost for any expenditure from the Animal Welfare Trust Fund (AWTF) is disturbing because this fund (originally created in 1985) was carefully restricted to assure that donations and bequests could be spent ONLY on established programs and capital improvements for the shelters--to benefit the animals directly. 

The founding fathers of the AWTF wanted to attract large donations and thus assure the best possible conditions at shelters and knew donors must be confident their money would not be spent on whimsical experiments nor line the pockets of managers and politicians.  

Millions of dollars have been donated to the Animal Welfare Trust Fund in small amounts solicited on LAAS annual dog-license payment forms and in sizable bequests from residents who want their legacy to include improved shelter conditions for abused, neglected, unwanted and abandoned animals. 

WAS WALTER R. WORMELL PROPERLY INFORMED HOW HIS BEQUEST COULD BE USED? 

Ironically, Item 6E on the agenda on February 26 was a $119,000 bequest from the Walter R. Wormell Trust, designated for the Animal Welfare Trust Fund. 

Here's how Mr. Wormell was assured his money would be used on the current L.A. Animal Services website: 

ANIMAL WELFARE TRUST FUND (LAAS WEBSITE)  

Your Lasting Gift of Love for the Animals -- How You can Make a Gift or Bequest to Los Angeles Animal Shelters 

Thank you for your interest in making a lasting gift of love for the animals through (sic)The Los Angeles Animal Shelters through a bequest of planned gift. Because of generous people like you, we are able to save and enrich the lives of thousands of orphaned or abandoned companion animals every year. 

The Animal Welfare Trust Fund 859. 

Your donation to the Animal Welfare Trust Fund will be used to enhance the quality of life for shelter animals  by funding animal supplies, medical equipment or services and other improvements to enrich the lives of the animals in our care. These funds also assist with expenditures related to the foster program and special medical treatment that may be outside the scope of day-to-day shelter care. (Emph. added.) 

Mr. Wormell (AND HIS ATTORNEY) obviously believed he could trust the person in charge of LAAS to treasure this sizable gift of his hard-earned money and spend it wisely on abused, neglected, stray and homeless animals, in accordance with the wording of the Department’s website. 

Did he know Brenda Barnette had initiated a change in the wording which was approved by the City Council and the Mayor, which has not been publicized and shows only in the Council File. 

BEST- KEPT SECRET - NEW ANIMAL WELFARE TRUST FUND ORDINANCE 

The new Ordinance (CF No. 17-1141), which was requested by GM Barnette, 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), and Council approval is required only on contracts exceeding $25,000. (This does not appear to preclude awarding short-term contracts (under $25,000 with options for renewal.) 

LAAS DONATED FUNDS SPENT FOR BEST FRIENDS 2018 CONFERENCE  

On April 30, 2018, City Watch reported, LAAS Spends Donated Animal-Welfare Funds for Best Friends' Conference, after the Commission on April 24, 2018 (before the new ordinance approved Barnette’s request to use Animal Welfare Trust Fund money to send thirty (30) LA Animal Services’ employees to the Best Friends National Conference.  

This included numerous high-paid LAAS managers including Barnette (salaries listed in above article.) The cost was a total of $8,250 paid to Best Friends Animal Society, although since 2011, Best Friends has enjoyed rent-free occupancy of the newest of seven LA City shelters built/renovated under Prop. F Bonds for which property owners are still paying. That $8,250 that had been donated to LAAS to improve the shelters for impounded animals. 

BRENDA BARNETTE AND BEST FRIENDS 

Brenda Barnette has her own page on the Best Friends' website, which discusses her speaking at their National Conference on Best Friends' programs, including "Nationwide Strategies to Save Them All: NKLA: Los Angeles, California." 

She is also named below as a member of the Steering Committee for the Best Friends 2025 program, "ANIMAL WELFARE LEADERS JOIN FORCES IN INITIATIVE TO END KILLING OF SHELTER PETS BY 2025." 

    Francis Battista – Co-Founder/Board President, Best Friends Animal Society

    Judah Battista – Co-Founder/Chief Regional Programs Officer, Best Friends Animal Society;

    Bonney Brown – President and Principal Consultant, Humane Network;

    Brenda Barnette – General Manager, Los Angeles Animal Services (LAAS) 

 

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE RULES (BELOW) SHOULD BE CONSIDERED 

The federal government has specific rules in regard to government employees' involvement with private or non-profit organizations (which are exempted from taxes under federal law.) 

It might behoove the LA Animal Services Commission to take under advisement any request to spend Animal Welfare Trust Funds that could financially benefit any organization which is in a partnership with a City governmental agency; i.e., Los Angeles Animal Services.  

If not a violation of law, it is still wise to consider ethics. 

Moreover, there is the issue of public trust --The Animal Welfare Trust Fund -- which has traditionally been reserved only for the physical benefit of the shelter animals. 

The option could be for the Commission to instruct the General Manager to change the solicitation on Los Angeles Animal Services' website to advise donors that their money could be used for public relations and analytical data contracts -- and is NOT limited to programs which directly improve the shelters or the conditions for the animals. 

Misuse of Position   

An employee may not use his public office for his own private gain or for that of persons or organizations with which he is associated personally. An employee's position or title should not be used to coerce; to endorse any product, service or enterprise; or to give the appearance of governmental sanction. An employee may use his official title and stationery only in response to a request for a reference or recommendation for someone he has dealt with in Federal employment or someone he is recommending for Federal employment. 

5 C.F.R. § 2635.702  (see Subpart G - Misuse of Position; Use of Public Office for Private Gain) 

Use of Official Title 

Generally, an employee engaging in teaching, speaking or writing in his personal capacity may not use his official title or position to identify himself in connection with the activity or to promote any book, seminar, course, program, etc. The two exceptions to this rule are as follows: 

  1. An employee may allow the use of his title if it is included as part of several other biographical details and the title is given no more prominence than other information; and 
  1. An employee may allow the use of his title in connection with an article published in a scientific or professional journal provided there is an appropriate disclaimer

5 C.F.R. § 2635.807(b)  (see Subpart H - Outside Activities; Teaching, Speaking and Writing) 

An employee engaging in fundraising in his personal capacity is also prohibited from using his official title, position or authority. In addition, he cannot solicit funds or other support from a subordinate or from any person that has business with his component.

 

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


 
 

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