Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Two Narratives on Animal Shelter Director Change

Citizens may be confused over why the city promoted its Budget Director to Assistant Director of Neighborhood/Family Services so soon after the resignation of James Flores, letter dated June 21.  Those watching the city's press event are led to believe all is sunshine and warmth.  And what luck the city had the perfect candidate internally to continue the great work started by Chief Bob Salas and sidekick James Flores.

Oddly, James Flores got the Shelter Director role in February 2015 via a similar internal promotion.  Bob Salas and sidekick Flores started with the right words but quickly began excluding people wanting to help.

City Human Resources Director told a different story, one of a shelter in crisis that needed urgent attention after a string of service failures.  City Manager Daniel Valenzuela, facing the crisis he'd ignored for years, asked the current Budget Director to fill Flores' role.  Valenzuela charged her with addressing concerns at the shelter over the next six months.

So which version is the springboard for the new director?  One would drive very different actions than the other.  The rosy scenario calls for tweaking, the crisis situation for a near to total rebuild.

Citizens should remain firm in their expectation of investigations and accountability from Salas and Valenzuela.  Those should already be underway.  The new director can ensure their completion and share the results with the Animal Services Advisory Committee.  By working through issues and concerns Animal Services can heal fractured community relationships and take concrete steps toward the rosy picture painted in the press announcement.

Burying or running around issues will not take San Angelo's Animal Services forward.  That's gone on for far too long.   Our community deserves better.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Six Days and a Storm After Flores Resignation

Basic research revealed Animal Shelter Director James Flores lied to the Animal Shelter Advisory Committee in his representations as to how other Texas cities handle community cats.  I posted the findings eight days ago.

Two days after publication Flores submitted his resignation "for personal reasons."  At the time members of the public sought answers on:

1)  the city's extermination of Misty, a deaf pit bull-rat terrier mix
2)  the adoption of a sick puppy from the shelter by a disabled vet and his family.  The puppy had distemper and eventually died.
3)  the overall handling of the shelter's distemper outbreak, including the number of dogs euthanized to control the disease, essentially a canine public health investigation.
4)  the city's responsibility/obligation to address dog packs that killed pets and small animals.  The issue arose after a pack(s) killed many pets on Christoval Road and local citizens had to trap the aggressive dogs near a public park.
5)  the city's fining a couple over $700 for their dogs being out and not micro-chipped
City leaders have two more issues to address:

6)  a Shelter Director fabricating community cat survey results for ASAC
7)  the rush to promote someone internally without addressing items 1-6.  
Neighborhood and Family Services Director Bob Salas said more than once "We're not the bad guys here."  Good guys don't twist other people's words or outright lie.  Salas has been the front man for a service that has not come clean on numerous issues.

Members of the public showed up for an Animal Services Advisory Committee wanting city response to their concerns (at least items 1-6 above).  The meeting was cancelled.  A subsection attended the next Council meeting and raised animal service issues.

The work of public interaction and accountability remains to be done.  Bob Salas has proven he is not capable of delivering.  The gentleman who witnessed a horrific heart stick euthanization by city staff shared his concern with Council in public comment in February.  No city leader followed up with him on his concern of animal cruelty on 2-12-17. 

City Manager Daniel Valenzuela has no record of credible investigations, despite repeated opportunities with the Furniture Fiasco and Republic Waste overcharging commercial customers for over a decade.

Eight days after I reported James Flores lied to a public body the city stood ready to make an announcement.  I expected something along the lines of:

The City of El Paso is recruiting nationally for a highly experienced, compassionate, ethical, and dedicated Animal Services Director to manage the day-to-day activities and operations of the newly established Animal Services Department. Animal Services became a stand-alone department in February 2016; previously Animal Services was a division of the City’s Environmental Services Department. The new Animal Services Department has approximately 120 full-time employees organized within the Animal Services Operations, Shelter Operations, Medical Operations, Community Programs, Marketing, and Administration divisions. The FY 2017 Departmental budget is approximately $9.7 million. This position requires a Bachelor’s degree and 8 years of professional administrative experience or animal control experience including 4 years of management or supervisory experience. The starting salary will be dependent on the experience and qualifications of the successful candidate.
Not Surprising San Angelo!  Our announcement stated:

Morgan Chegwidden, the City of San Angelo’s budget manager, has been promoted to assistant director of the Neighborhood/Family Services Department, where she will manage the Animal Shelter and oversee Code Compliance.

Chegwidden served on the board of Sadie's Rescue, which ceased operations several years ago.  There are likely hundreds of citizens who served on the board of a local animal rescue group.  They weren't given the opportunity to apply for the position that appeared to be opening up on July 13, the date Flores resignation would become effective.

It took City leaders a mere six days after accepting Flores resignation to officially appoint Chegwidden.  That included a weekend with a horrific storm for which the city is seeking a disaster designation.  During the three non-weekend work days the city prepared a slick video on Chegwidden's promotion.   This feels too packaged and rushed for an area the city has historically underfunded and poorly managed.

The City rapidly appointed a trusted employee of Assistant City Manager Michael Dane.  Morgan Chegwidden deserves a chance to succeed.  She'll need to prove herself by working through not avoiding, bullying or intimidating.

It appears the Animal Services Advisory Committee was left out of the loop once again.  Also, only one local rescue was invited to the announcement, the one with a $60,000 contract with the city.   Actions speak louder than words and in this promotion a number of them are questionable.

New Shelter Director Morgan Chegwidden has many lingering issues to address if Salas and other city managers allow it.  I hope they don't pass the buck to the guy who's gone.  That wouldn't be honest or have integrity.    

Update 11-4-22:  Street dog packs are back as the Animal Shelter closed off dog intake for the rest of November.  Councilperson Lucy Gonzales noted "dog packs and numerous cats" as she drives around city neighborhoods.

Where is the concern on city's part about Public safety? Feral dog packs running loose, putting other pets and children at risk, the threat of rabies, etc., which is why Animal Control exists.


Monday, June 19, 2017

Director Manipulated Survey Data for Animal Shelter Advisory Committee

Animal Shelter Chief James Flores presented a community cat survey to the City's Advisory Committee in their May meeting.  He represented:

I asked the city for a copy of the survey results.  It is two legal pad hand written pages and can be seen below.  To the right of Flores written words I added research comments that confirm or call into question his findings/representations.:

Of the seven cities Flores said had mandatory city registration three definitely do not, Garland, Arlington. and San Antonio.  Garland and Arlington have voluntary registration through local animal services organizations, just like San Angelo's current ordinance.

In the case of Garland's sponsorship model the city pays for all spay/neuter services.  Flores knew this from a May 12, 2017 e-mail from Garland's Shelter Director.

San Angelo contributes no money to Critter Shack, the only local sponsoring organization helping citizens wishing to practice trap, neuter, return and maintain for community cats

San Antonio funds the program for certain zip codes:

If you live in any of the zip codes listed below under San Antonio's ACS Community Cat Program, you are eligible to receive a FREE cat trap and spay/neuter services.
Even San Marcos, the preferred site mentioned by Flores, has a sponsor model in their current city ordinance.

Unfortunately their nonprofit is no longer manned to run the voluntary community/feral cat program.  San Marcos is the only city surveyed to have had their nonprofit partner pull back.  Their shelter plans to move to mandatory registration.

Galveston also utilizes a community partner to address the island's feral cat issue.

The Galveston Island Community Cats Program is operated through the Galveston Island Humane Society and has provided sterilization for healthy stray or feral cats for years.
The only two of the seven cited that fit Mr. Flores description of current mandatory registration with the city are Kileen and Wichita Falls.  Both of their ordinances require a city permit for a cat colony manager.  Neither had information on their city websites about the requirement or how to register/get a permit.

Wichita Falls has an active nonprofit fixing community cats.  The City of Kileen does not appear to have any community partners helping with free roaming cats.. 

Flores said seven Texas cities had no TNR program.   Waco clearly has one.  It's on the City of Waco's website.  It too utilizes a local nonprofit sponsor, one that has been on the job since 2007.

While the City of San Angelo danced in and out of pet neutering Critter Shack remained in the low cost spay/neuter space.   One San Angelo colony manager endured the city's heavy hand in 2013.  She watched city staff trap cats she fixed with her personal resources and haul them away for extermination.  That prompted people practicing TNRM to ask the city for safe legal authority which it granted in 2015.

James Flores' misrepresentations to the ASAC are a continuation of Animal Control obstruction and intransigence in the community cat arena.  Since the ordinance passed one appointed member of the Animal Board has obsessed about the location of managed cat colonies.  The Board never told her to chill out, back off or shut up and viewed Critter Shack's honoring their commitment to keep colony location confidential as noncompliance.  I find it odd that following the current ordinance is viewed as problematic by a body charged with public oversight.  That's been the case for over two years.

Mandatory community cat colony registration is a solution to a nonexistent problem.  Everything the city wants to do, it can already do.  The way to tell if a citizen is practicing TNR is to talk to them.  Flores said he knows where people are feeding large groups of cats.  For some reason he and his staff won't talk to them to find out if they are fixing.  If not, Flores can educate them and steer "feeders but not fixers" to Critter Shack, the only local resource willing to help.

Normally the parties in a public-private partnership, the City and Critter Shack, would have regular meetings to see how the partnership is going, work through operational issues and plan changes and improvements.  That has not been the case since Council passed the ordinance.  There has been only one consistent request

Most Texas community cat partnerships are clearly promoted by city animal services via websites, news and videos.   Other cities provide a range of education and resources as part of their end of the partnership.

The City of San Angelo has taken a minimalist at best approach in this regard.  Searching the city's website I found the following information:

Research showed other Texas cities with vibrant public-private partnerships for community cats.  Those require trust and collaboration, something the City of San Angelo has abused in the recent past.  The Community Cat ordinance was adopted on Neighborhood and Family Services Director Bob Salas' and James Flores' watch.  Critter Shack volunteers have done the work and have many compelling stories to tell, much more than who is the colony manager and where are they located.  Four community cat representatives spoke to Council in February and will likely do so again.

The question is why Flores would manipulate a survey toward mandatory registration for people practicing TNR with their personal time, energy and resources?   Evidence shows he did just that.

Update 6-24-17:  Flores resigned his position with the city.  It came two days after this post.

The Standard Times ran a story as well.  City PIO Anthony Wilson replied in the comments. I imagine citizens want to know a few basic facts about Animal Shelter leadership going forward.  We'll see if the city releases any information via news release, video, City Council agenda, etc.   

Saturday, June 17, 2017

ASAC Quorum: Did One Exist on 6-15?

A quorum may have existed when the Animal Shelter Advisory Committee cancelled its meeting last Thursday.  Here's the scenario:

If ASAC Chairperson Jenie Wilson's resignation is not official until accepted by the Committee, then there were four committee members in the room. which constitutes a quorum. 

Here's what the city did in the case of Bill Richardson:

District 1 City Councilman Bill Richardson submitted a written resignation to Mayor Dwain Morrison this morning.

According to a Texas Attorney General opinion, the resignation will become effective once it is approved or accepted by the City Council or once eight days have passed since receipt of the resignation.

The City Council will meet at 9 a.m. Thursday to engage in its annual strategic planning session. City Clerk Bryan Kendrick said a special meeting may be called prior to the planning session Thursday morning for the Council to consider acceptance of Councilman Richardson’s resignation and to discuss its options for filling the seat.
Should the above information apply to the Animal Board the ASAC meeting could have begun, public comment been accepted and business started.  ASAC bylaws do not speak to resignation of board members, so City Council behavior/practice is one place to turn for precedence.

The Standard Times reported the evening of the cancelled meeting that Wilson "resigned about a week ago."  That's in time for her resignation to have been added to the agenda and accepted by the board.  It's also before the eight days that had to pass before a City Council members resignation was effective.  Four ASAC members may have been in the room last Thursday but no meeting was convened.  Would that be a violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Public Shows Up, San Angelo's Animal Board Doesn't

The Animal Shelter Advisory Committee had large numbers of citizens in attendance for today's scheduled meeting.  The meeting never adjourned due to poor attendance from appointed representatives.  The ASAC had three members show up, Dr. Victor Schulze, Maureen "Mo" Soupiset and David Howard.  Oddly, Committee Chair Jenie Wilson was not on the dais but sitting in the audience.  Had she been with the other members the committee would've reached the quorum requirement of a simple majority. 

Director of Neighborhood and Family Services Bob Salas informed an attendee that Wilson had resigned from the Animal Services Advisory Committee.

So why the huge public turnout and missing appointed representatives?  Various interest groups attended the meeting today.  Some may have wanted to speak on recent animal control issues:

1)  The euthanasia of Misty, a rat terrier-pit bull mix.  The public has serious concerns about her case and raised a number of customer service issues.

2)  The board's move toward mandatory community cat registration as expressed in their last meeting.  This visceral response came from the board wanting to know the location of community cat colonies, something purposefully kept confidential in city ordinance.  Shelter Chief James Flores twisted survey information he presented to the board last month and some people attended to refute his inaccurate claims.

3)  Animal Control's fining a couple over $700 for their two dogs not having microchips and being temporarily out of their back yard enclosure.  At the time of the citation both pets were in the front yard, the owner was aware and coming home.  Both dogs had collars with tags and were spayed/neutered.

4)  The recent distemper outbreak at the City Shelter, which involved adoption staff wiping goop from a dog's eyes before showing it to their new owner.  The owners spent thousands of dollars to help their new pet, already sick from its time in the shelter.  The husband of the adopting family is a disabled veteran.

5)  The city's failure to address at least one pack of wild dogs that killed pets and wildlife around Glenmore Park and Old Christoval Road.  Citizens had to trap the wild dogs in the middle of the night and had challenges getting Animal Control to respond.  Shelter Chief James Flores cited "supposedly dogs" in the May ASAC meeting.  This statement came after necropsies, pictures and two aggressive dogs were picked up by the shelter. 

I am aware of at least one more issue an interested citizen wanted to raise based on their interaction with the shelter but I don't want to steal their thunder.  Hopefully, the meeting will be rescheduled with lots of notice.  That way people who wanted to speak today have a chance of being heard.

Democracy showed up today.  Appointed representatives did not. 

Update 7-20-22:   A pack of dogs killed a 71 year old man in Fort Bend County, southwest of Houston.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Misty's Case Falls Short of City Vision, Mission and Values

What happens when a public service organization fails to serve the public?  People speak up, sometimes in droves. 

The service failure arose last Saturday when Misty, a 5 year old rat terrier-pit bull mix escaped from her home.  Misty was deaf, which contributed to her being struck by a car and sustaining injuries.  Fortunately, a former veterinary technician lived nearby and examined Misty.  The dog needed medical attention but her injuries were not life threatening.  This citizen took pictures of the dog, which indicated the location of the tire marks and the extent of her injuries.

An Animal Control Officer responded and took Misty to the shelter.  The owner and local rescues communicated via and all stood ready to help get Misty the medical attention she needed.  Both PAWS and Cassie's Place contacted shelter staff within hours of her arrival.  Their calls were not returned.

Conclusion:  On June 3rd the Shelter knew or should have known the dog had an owner interested in her well being and several rescues willing to help Misty get medical care.  The city did not reach out to the rescues as they had done in the past..

The owner contacted the shelter Monday, June 5th to learn Misty had been euthanized and the city represented her injuries as more significant than experienced by the neighbor vet tech.  Ways to explore this apparent contradiction would be via pictures of the animal prior to euthanasia or having Misty's body back.  The city had neither.

"Unless picked up by owners, deceased animals, including most from vet offices, are surrendered to Republic."  Bob Salas - Director of Neighborhood/Family Services
In a written statement city officials said her body had been surrendered to Republic Services, our local trash hauler.  The statement did not say what time Republic picked up Misty's body between Saturday evening and the time the owner called on Monday.

Conclusion:  The city does not have evidence to support the change in Misty's condition and her body was not kept for her owner.  The city had knowledge of an interested owner Saturday evening.

Misty's owner indicated city staff threatened to cite him for neglect.  It's not clear if that was before or after he asked for her body back. 

The owner communicated with both rescues about Misty's euthanasia and all were surprised by the change in events.  They expected her to be treated for minor injuries and reunited with her owner.  The rescues, one a partner with the city on animal adoptions, consider her case to be a service failure.  Area rescues mobilized to have Misty's case investigated and are seeking support for changes in city practices.   

The City of San Angelo chose to approach KSAN and KLST News rather than explore what happened.  Animal Services Director James Flores spoke to KLST reporter Daija Barrett in defense of the city's actions.  KLST did not show Misty's owner or either of the two rescues involved in trying to help her.  City Manager Daniel Valenzuela and Public Information Officer Anthony Wilson had to approve Flores going on television, which turned out to be more than once in this case.

Flores did not tell the reporter or public the city was investigating what happened and looking to make operational changes to address elements of Misty's case.  He stated he wanted to get ahead of social media reports.  The Standard Times ran a more balanced piece on Thursday, June 8th.  For that story Animal Shelter management gave written answers via e-mail. 

Conclusion:  The city is more interested in aggressive image management than good customer service.

What would good customer service entail?  Assuming Misty's injuries were as represented by the city, shelter staff could have contacted the owner that Saturday evening and shared the tragic news.  They could have offered to refrigerate her body, as other animal shelters do, and have the owner pick Misty up on Monday.

As the city did not offer this basic courtesy, the owner and rebuffed rescues wonder if Misty's injuries were as the city described.  Several months ago another former veterinary technician testified to City Council of Animal Control's extermination of a dog with non-life threatening injuries (City Council meeting 2-21-17 at 22:40 mark).  The public heard his horrific description on Channel 17 but never anything about an investigation or follow up by city leaders.

Pets are part of quality of life in our community.  Misty's story falls short of best management practices in customer service.  It fits with the city's historical view of animal control as an enforcement duty.  Our local Fox News had James Flores on again last night.  Flores remained defensive.  He referred to the groups that helped connect the stray with the owner and stood ready to help Misty get vet care as "supposed rescues."

The City's all image campaign comes at the expense of competent leadership.  City Manager Daniel Valenzuela is not known for conducting thorough investigations.  He has a reputation for avoidance in the Furniture Fiasco and Republic Services overcharging cases.  His office produced short, unsigned internal investigations for disturbing actions by city leaders.  There's not a hint of an investigation in Misty's case.  That would've made one of the city's television news stories.

Misty's case came with multiple surprises and communication failures.  Those reflect the poor customer service Misty and her owner received.  It came from the shelter that adopted out Misty, the group that should have ensured her microchip was up to date.  

The microchip focus is somewhat of a red herring as her owner had been identified by two rescues and they were trying to work with the city to see what Misty needed.  It's the shelter who didn't communicate back Saturday evening or Monday morning.  Once people shared the story and began speaking up the city communicated like crazy with local television news reporters.

The city did not bring together everyone who touched Misty Saturday evening to build a common picture of what happened, identify lingering questions and ways to get them answered.  From the city's view it euthanized a stray, injured dog that didn't have an accurate microchip.  From the rescues' view they identified the owner for the city within hours and stood ready to help an injured dog as they'd done before, but never got the call from Animal Services.  The owner is heartbroken over Misty's death and at a minimum wanted her body back and an evidence backed explanation for her euthanasia.

Questions include:  What are the city's responsibilities when an injured dog is picked up by Animal Control?  Does it document with pictures and video the animal's state prior to being euthanized?  How does it communicate with owners, those with accurate microchips and those rescues have identified for the city?  What commitments does the shelter make to hold the body for owners?  How did Misty's handling match the city's customer service aspirations?

Shelter Director James Flores is not answering the above questions.  Instead he is hurt by a social media outcry and speaking in person to a willing news media.  Excellence, service, accountability, resourcefulness and stewardship:  Misty and her owner deserved them all from the city.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

City Council Tackled Ordinances Staff Didn't Follow

San Angelo's City Council learned city staff did not follow adopted ordinances in two areas, animal control citations and purchasing requirements. 

Neighborhood/Family Services Director Bob Salas stated

"As you know positions change, names change.  Unfortunately, that causes problems during court proceedings."
Management's changing position titles the last two years caused the problem Salas cited. Therefiore, Council needed to bail out Animal Shelter management by adopting a vague statement.  Staff's solution creates a mystery for the public as to who can actually write an animal control citation. 

Cleanup of the city's code of ordinances continued with the proposed removal of the full detail of purchasing practices.  Purchasing detail would move from ordinance to resolution, i.e. city policy.  Staff proposed removing policy level details by voting this and the next City Council meeting.  Once removed, said they would have policy details for the next meeting.  The rationale is codification is expensive to maintain and leaves room for errors, i.e. situations where purchasing actions do not match ordinance requirements.  Therefore, Council needed to redact aspects of the purchasing ordinance.

City Attorney Theresa James clarified the area the new resolution will cover once presented.

"It spells out those rules for any purchases less than $50,000."
Assistant City Manager Michael Dane:

"The key today is we're moving this from code to policy adopted by council."

James added:

"The main thing our code of ordinances does it creates a penal code, essentially, so you are not going to fine me $200 for not following purchasing policies.  We might have other penalties but it's not going to be a criminal fine.  There's no point in having this kind of policy in a criminal statute."
Ordinances are not a commitment to the way the city does business, with obligations and requirements of city staff and citizens.  Ordinances are a means to fine and punish citizens.  James' comments explain why there are no consequences for staff not following ordinances.

The June 6, 2017 City Council meeting was instructive for citizens interested in these two items.  We learned:

1) When staff doesn't follow ordinances
2)  It's up to Council to change them to something vague
3)  Or drop them altogether.

What lessons await in future council meetings?

Friday, June 02, 2017

Animal Services Seeks Citation Clarity from Confusion Caused by Management

San Angelo's City Council will undertake an agenda item compelling citizens to appear in court for violations of Animal Services ordinances.  Here's the rationale:

Currently, the Animal Control ordinance of the City of San Angelo adopted in 2015 does not effectively designate those employees that should be authorized to issue citations for violation of this ordinance. The current language identifies specific positions that have changed names over the past few years which causes confusion during court hearings.

Current language: (d) Any person employed as a city peace officer, animal services director, animal services officer, animal services technician, or animal services dispatcher shall have the authority to issue citations for violations of this chapter.
Position names don't change spontaneously.  That's the job of Animal Services management.  It would be their and City Manager Daniel Valenzuela's job to keep operations consistent with ordinances.  Clearly, they did not since 2015.  Management created the confusion for Municipal Court in two short years.

Historically, Animal Services has picked and chosen which ordinances to apply and when.  During the City's extermination of Mejor Que Nada's community cats City Health Director Sandra Villareal defended animal control workers not following ordinances for nuisance animals, calling those procedures "the Red Tape way."

Here's the new language:

Any duly authorized agent of the City who meets all requirements imposed by state law shall have authority to issue citations for violations of this chapter.
Under the current ordinance citizens expect to be cited by an Animal Services worker, manager or a peace officer.  Those I can picture.

I cannot image a "duly authorized agent  of the city who meets all requirements imposed by state law for issuing citations for violations of Chapter 3:  Animal Control."  That sounds like a line in a job description or a qualification for job consideration.  This language is not a move to clarity for the public.

Updating the job titles management changed would be the best benefit for the public.  As Mayor Morrison stated months ago to City Council it's hard to see public benefit as the aim of Animal Services.  This proposed change may be another window into that world.

City Council should ask questions before approving this item.  One, will code compliance officers be able to write citations for animal control ordinances?

Two, how will Animal Control  handle situations when it's not following ordinances under this section?  It happened in 2013 and will surely happen again.  Will they ticket themselves?

And three, what was the recommendation of the Animal Services Advisory Committee on this ordinance change?  The item has not appeared on the ASAC agenda the last few months, so management skipped its advisory committee yet again. 

We have a new Mayor and a number of astute new City Council members.  We'll see if they allow an illogical change that makes it more confusing for the public to know who can issue them an Animal Control citation.

Update 6-6-17:  City Council accepted that management changed titles to make the ordinance problematic in Municipal Court.  Council approved the vague wording "Any duly authorized agent of the City who meets all requirements imposed by state law shall have authority to issue citations for violations of this chapter."  The vote was 7-0.  Council learned the Director had not focused on this part of his job for several years.  The number of Animal Control employees able to write citations went from 6 to 3 certified with 3 in training, to 3 certified with 2 in training and one having to use a workaround process.  Shelter leadership broke the ordinance by not following it.  As Council let them off the hook James Flores told an ever changing story.  New Council members have been oriented. The public has no idea which city employees can write citations.  Will Code Enforcement be able to write animal control citations?  No City Council members asked that question.