Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Garcetti Commissioner: "(LA Animal Services is) a leaking rowboat"

A swarm of at least 125 protesters, including masked LA Animal Services employees, marched on a recent Sunday outside the residence of Mayor Eric Garcetti, demanding the termination of Brenda Barnette, his LAAS general manager, chanting "your job, your fault," regarding myriad false claims and mismanagement during her five-year tenure for which she was paid in excess of $1 million.   

Organized by humane activists Paul Darrigo and Michael Bell, the protest moved forward after their meeting with Garcetti's advisers a few days earlier resulted in no future meeting with the Mayor, and no commitment to a world-class shelter system with a new GM. "The Mayor is a busy guy," they were told.

But who else is responsible for the problems at LAAS other than Garcetti and Barnette?

Let's first look at the five LAAS Commissioners appointed by Garcetti to oversee LAAS and Barnette.

"LA Animal Services is a leaking rowboat," wrote Commissioner Roger Wolfson last August in response to concerns about, among other things, nearly 9,000 falsified adoptions and the misrepresentation of those statistics to potential donors and the media; fake impound numbers; the dubious relationship with Best Friends; and animals being bred and sold at places like a used appliance store and a tire repair business in L.A.  "No way to plug all the holes at once," Wolfson continued, "I'm doing my best."

But since Wolfson's August 28, 2014 email, none of those issues was ever agendized for the Commission meetings.  In fact, Wolfson successfully led the charge to limit public comments at its meetings.

That's unfortunate. Wolfson sorely needs that public input because he, like his colleague Larry Gross, has no prior humane experience.  In fact, Wolfson admits that prior to being nominated for the LAAS Commission by Garcetti, he didn't even know he was supposed to have his dogs licensed.  (While Wolfson claims to have paid for his dog licenses since then, the city ignored CPRA requests for documents proving that Wolfson paid for past years dog licenses and late fees, and the dates of those payments).   When a former Commissioner named Ruthanne Secunda, a wealthy talent agent, did the same while voting on dog licensing issues, she was shown the door.

Wolfson is a lawyer and television writer who has complained about the appointment taking up too much of his time, and Gross is a lawyer and a housing rights activist.

Similarly, David Zaft, is an environmental law attorney with no known humane background; hardly the chops needed to be Commission president.  In fact, his business resume makes no mention of the appointment after several years on the Commission.  

While struggling to grasp and prioritize issues has become the brand of Wolfson, Gross and Zaft, a more ominous problem exists with Commissioner Alana Yanez, who runs a program for her employer, the Humane Society of the United States, in Los Angeles.

But on her 8/29/14 financial disclosure form -- signed under penalty of perjury for her reappointment -- Yanez failed to disclose her employment with HSUS.  (See Item #3 on page 4).   In fact, Yanez checked Box #6 on that form which says "I had no reportable interests in real property, investments, income, gifts, or board positions associated with restricted sources during this reporting period."

Neither Yanez nor Garcetti's office can claim they didn't know about her conflict of interest.  The Ethics Commission warned about it in this letter from when she was originally appointed in 2012. Presumably they read it before reappointing her.  

Also at fault is L.A. City Council, which cannot plead ignorance either.  Its 9/16/14 agenda item says her financial disclosure statement is "pending," even though Yanez signed it 18 days earlier.  

City Council was warned about Yanez's conflict of interest that day, but - surprise - it fell on deaf ears and Yanez was never asked about it, or anything else.  Open the role, close the roll, tabulate the votes:  unanimously approved. 

Sometimes, Yanez does the reverse and discloses her employment, but not her Commissionership, such as in this 2012 Wall Street Journal article in which Barnette is also quoted on the plight of animals in Los Angeles, while they both failed to disclose their mutual efforts to reallocate spay/neuter funds for other purposes.   Yanez should, but often doesn't, recuse herself from Commission agenda items where HSUS has an interest in City of LA humane policy, like our well-intentioned, horribly executed spay/neuter law, elephant protection items and the like.

Once upon a time, Commissioners spoke up when Mayors and GMs made false claims about adoption, cruelty enforcement and euthanasia.  Marie Atake did that back in 2007, and was backed up by her colleague Archie Quincey and then-Councilmember Dennis Zine.  When then-Mayor Villaraigosa's henchman Jimmy Blackman told her to "be quiet or resign," she bravely walked and told her story to KABC.  

Right now, the only sitting LAAS Commissioner who belongs there is Jennifer Brent, Executive Director of The Jason Heigl Foundation, and who previously worked at Found Animals Foundation.

City Hall staffers, when faced with complaints, often ask (as Darrigo and Bell were asked by Garcetti's people) is anything working righta typical public sector tactic, instead of asking what can be done to fix what is wrong.  The answer is that LA Animal Services can work right, perhaps infinitely better, but only if everyone is engaged, experienced, above-board and not worried about retribution for speaking up.

Mayor Garcetti would be wise to make his first step the return to the Commission of Kathy Riordan, who was beloved by rescuers and LAAS staffers alike, when she served on it from 1999 to 2013.  He should nominate her without insisting on her first submitting a signed, but undated, resignation letter.  Garcetti should rise above the fact that her father, former Mayor Richard Riordan, didn't support him for the job.  His second step should be a comprehensive external audit and allow Barnette's employment to rest on its assessment of her claims.

After all, his own appointee said "it's a leaking rowboat."