Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Delving into October ASAC Non-Meeting

Three members of the Animal Shelter Advisory Committee sat in San Angelo's City Hall last Thursday.  Citizens took time intending to participate in local government.  Staff, including the City Attorney, informed those in attendance the meeting could not be held due to lack of quorum.

The public did not know Sgt. Chris Carpenter resigned as of the August ASAC meeting.  The City's website shows a vacancy for SMD 4 even though Council approved someone for that slot in July 2022.

Morgan Chegwidden said she'd texted the absent persons (the ASAC Chair and Vice Chair) and learned they would not be able to attend.  Those texts are below.

The text to the Chair was sent at noon and the one to the Vice Chair was sent at 12:02.  The text to Victor Schulze DVM was sent at 11:40 am.  He indicated he was on his way.

Both officers seemed unaware of the meeting.  Those responses warrant deeper examination.

The ASAC bylaws state:

Agendas will be prepared by the ASAC City Liaison and reviewed by the chair prior to posting.

Had the chair reviewed the agenda prior to the posting would that person be unaware of the meeting? 

Meetings shall be conducted by the chairperson, and if absent by the Vice-Chairperson.

The very two people specified as "conducting the meeting" seemed out of the loop, didn't get the message, didn't read it or something else.

City ordinances state for the ASAC:

The committee shall meet from time to time at the call of the chairperson, provided that the committee shall meet not less than three times per calendar year. 
That clearly requires the chair be in the loop about the meeting date, place and time.

The bylaws also state:

A quorum shall consist of a simple majority of the ASAC. 

Common sense might say:  With two vacancies on the seven person committee, there are five active members.  Three were in attendance last Thursday.  That constitutes a majority.

The ASAC bylaws do not address unfilled positions.  The City addresses the issue in ordinance:

In the event of quorum concerns, should a board member's replacement not be appointed upon the expiration of any term of a board member, then that board member shall holdover on the board until a qualified replacement board member has been appointed.

Under this ordinance Sgt. Chris Carpenter would have remained on the board until his replacement had been appointed.  Morgan wrote to Sgt. Carpenter on 10-16-23:

You can disregard, still actively trying to fill your vacancy so still included you in the email.
City leaders have a history of picking and choosing ordinances to follow and those to ignore.  In the Animal Services arena some have gone so far as to fabricate.

Citizens expected an "open ASAC meeting" last week.  That did not happen for a number of reasons and some are uninspiring.

Update:  Morgan told Fox West Texas the two board members were missing due to "a lot of demands on people’s time and we couldn’t even call the meeting to order." 

Update 10-25-23:  For the planned January 2024 ASAC meeting Morgan wrote in an e-mail:

"Trying to confirm quorum for ASAC’s 1/19 meeting." 

That meeting did not happen as the agenda was not posted for the public.  Morgan informed the committee as to why:

"I apologize but I had a family emergency Friday and failed to publish this month’s agenda. We’ll instead meet 2/16/23."
I wrote about the failure to post and suggested the shelter motto be "No Voice, No Service."  That still applies. 

If there is no make-up ASAC meeting before 2024, here is the proposed schedule:

Also, there are two board slots to fill.  City Councilperson Lucy Gonzales is working to identify someone to fill a slot vacated 1-31-23.  Sgt. Chris Carpenter's slot opened 8-17-23.  It's not clear the slot Carpenter filled and who is responsible for nominating his replacement.

Update 11-2-23:  There are no ASAC board member candidates on City Council's agenda for 11-7-23.

Update 11-3-23:  It's been two weeks and there is no scheduled ASAC meeting on the city's website.

Update 11-4-23:  San Angelo city ordinances state " the committee shall meet not less than three times per calendar year."  Meeting #1 occurred on 4-20-23 and #2 on 8-17-23.  Meeting #3 is yet to occur. 

Update 12-5-23:  There is no ASAC meeting scheduled for December on the city's website. 

Update 12-14-23:  It appears the city will violate its three ASAC meetings requirement for 2023.  City Council's upcoming meeting had the following information on City committees:

Animal Shelter Advisory Committee: 1 veterinarian; 1 municipal or county official; 1 whose duties include the daily operation of an “animal shelter” as defined in section 823.001 of the Health and Safety Code; 1 officer or employee of an animal welfare organization; and 3 positions filled by City residents.

There are no nominees to fill the two empty ASAC positions. 

Update 1-22-24: Sgt. Carpenter's resignation was effective after the 8-17-23 ASAC meeting according to city records.  That means only three people in attendance would be a majority, i.e constitute a quorum.  That's the number of ASAC members on 10-19-23, however city staff indicated a quorum was lacking and did not hold the meeting.

Monday, October 23, 2023

Turnover Continues in Key Priority Areas

The City of San Angelo is losing another leader in an area identified as strategically important for local government.  Development Services Director Jon James last day is the end of October.   James tight-roped a conflict between City Council and Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) Board over funding nonprofits in the North TIRZ zone.  It remains unresolved.

The City already has openings for Water Utilities and Economic Development.  Both positions have been open for over a year.

Concho Valley Homepage reported that a number of San Angelo Police officers have communicated their concerns about city operations and pay scales.  A former SAPD Public Information Officer wrote:

"claimed 21 officers were actively seeking employment elsewhere, which did not include the ’40 plus that can punch out and retire at any time’. She listed officers’ reasons for leaving as low pay and benefits and a lack of support from leadership."

The officer "asked the community to reach out to city management to voice concerns. The city won’t listen to officers’ voices. Hopefully, they will listen to yours.”

A mass exodus from SAPD would hurt City Council's public safety priority.  

Surely City leaders will tackle this issue at the next Council meeting.  If they don't address it, a real pattern is emerging.

Update 10-24-23:  City leaders responded to the stories on Concho Valley Homepage.  Look for any proposed action at the November 7th City Council meeting.

Update 1-26-24:  City Council discussed the inability to hire Directors for key position in their strategic planning session.  Councilman Tommy Hiebert spoke to the length of time many critical positions have been empty. 

Thursday, October 19, 2023

ASAC Full House Turned Away

A number of citizens turned out to be heard at today's Animal Shelter Advisory Committee meeting.  That did not happen due to a lack of quorum, i.e. not enough committee members were in attendance.

When Shelter Chief Morgan Chegwidden made the announcement many in the room encouraged a quick rescheduling of the meeting.  City Attorney Theresa James said she would take any written comments attendees wished to submit.

I saw representatives from Critter Shack Rescue as well as the City's adoption/veterinary service provider, Concho Valley PAWS.  A member of City Council was there.  

It's not unusual for the Animal Shelter Advisory Committee to fail to achieve a quorum.  More than not when the room is full of people wishing to be heard, the meeting does not occur.  At least that's been the situation over the last six years. 

June 2017 -  Public Shows Up, Animal Services Board Doesn't

This meeting did not occur as Board member and PAWS Executive Director had resigned.

February 2018 -  ASAC Didn't Meet in February Despite Expanded PAWS Deal and Serious Compliance Concerns

The city offered two stories on the meeting, a lack of agenda items and a lack of quorum.

February 2022 -  Dog Poisoning Not on ASAC Agenda

The meeting did not occur due to a lack of quorum. 

Hopefully city staff will act on the recommendation of those wishing to be heard and hold an Animal Services Advisory Committee meeting in the near future.  

Update:  MyFoxZone did a story on the meeting being cancelled due to lack of board attendance.  The story did not say three of the six current board members attended, while three others did not.  One of the absent members is a City employee.  

Update 10-20-23:  It appears the ASAC Chair and Vice Chair missed the meeting as well as a full time City of San Angelo employee.  There is no information on the city's website about a rescheduled meeting. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Animal Shelter Advisory Committee to Further Push Community Sheltering

The Animal Shelter Advisory Committee will consider the next push to keep unwanted pets out of the City Animal Shelter.  It's the ratcheting up of "community sheltering," underway since the shelter started managed intake in 2019.  The ASAC background packet actually states, what citizens have known and complained about:

"more dogs are loose this year compared to prior years" 

The packet shows shelter intake for the year was 2,901 pets.    That's down from 8,074 in FY 2014 and 4,264 for FY 2021.

The background packet did not show the number of owner surrendered pets in shelter statistics for the fiscal year ended 9-30-23.  However, the "community sheltering" agenda item mentions owner surrenders.   

One factor contributing to increased dogs at large for field services is the owner surrender process.

Four years ago the shelter began choking off pet intake:

The City no longer takes owner surrendered pets due to things like owner illness or death.  (ASAC approved 4-19-19)
Back to tomorrow's background packet on community sheltering:

The two most common requests we get from owners wishing to rehome their pets are (1) reactivity/aggression in the home and (2) restrictive housing practices prohibiting certain breeds or sizes.

A difficult part of pet ownership is euthanizing a pet with a bite history, reactivity, aggression, or otherwise unsafe behavior in the home. We ask citizens to have such pets humanely euthanized with the veterinarian of their choice but we suspect such owners often turn these dogs loose in the neighborhoods.

Animal Shelter Chief Morgan Chegwidden told City Council numerous times that public safety is their top priority.  

The shelter likely has interaction with citizens struggling with an aggressive pet, especially one "with a bite history."  If they are asking citizens to use a vet to euthanize their aggressive pet the city is aware of that situation. 

The city stopped providing "low cost" pet euthanization for citizens in 2019.

The City no longer will euthanize a pet for a resident of San Angelo. (ASAC approved 8-15-19)

The expense of euthanization may contribute to owners turning loose their aggressive dog in the neighborhood.

Back to the other reason for owner surrender requests:

Regarding housing restrictions, we advocate for private landlords, corporate-held apartments, and the public housing authority to offer truly pet-friendly housing opportunities with no restriction on breed or size.

I have not heard City Council or the Animal Shelter Advisory Committee take up this topic.  The city does have animal ordinances the Shelter is responsible for enforcing.  The packet offered an odd take the city's mandatory spay-neuter ordinance and microchip requirement.

An unintended consequence of Animal Services Officers enforcing local ordinances governing pet ownership has criminalized pet ownership for a large volume of San Angeloans. Requiring spay/neuter and microchip for all dogs and cats over four months of age is certainly appropriate and a best-case scenario. However, imposing this on marginalized citizens makes pet ownership a crime, and such individuals are cited and fined leading them to consider rehoming their pets.

First, City Council has not taken this view of the mandatory spay/neuter and microchip ordinances.  When Council adopted the ordinances city staff stated their would be fewer stray animals in the streets, not more.

Second, one would have to write citations in greater numbers than Animal Control for it to impact a large volume of San Angeloans.  

Third, if they were really concerned they would mobilize low cost spay-neuter programs to assist these marginalized citizens.  The city's exclusive partner Concho Valley PAWS stopped its low cost spay/neuter vouchers for four months over the last year.

Animal Services is budgeted for one Animal Services Officer supervisor and four Animal Services Officers. With frequent vacancies and a lengthy certification process, we struggle to provide a round-the-clock response. The same, small team responds to calls during regular hours and then takes a rotation of after-hours emergency calls thus overtaxing an under-resourced system. Staff advocates for funding for additional staffing, equipment, and overtime to keep up with community demands.
This explains why animal related calls for San Angelo Police Department have soared since the shelter began choking off intake.

Lifesaving in animal welfare is a community ethic and it impacts daily life. When your animal care workers are taxed to the limit, San Angelo shows up. That is the very definition of community-supported sheltering.
The animal care community in San Angelo is taxed to the limit, driven by eight years of the City Animal Shelter doing less and less while its budget rose 66%.

Animal Services spent $750,000 in FY ended  2015.  The budget for the coming fiscal year ended 2024 is over $1.25 million.  That's a $500,000 or 66% increase.
Local animal rescues don't have near the resources to keep up with the city's propensity to continue restricting or stop providing Animal Services (under the guise of Pets Alive).  I don't see how large volumes of San Angeloans can afford to pick up the slack if they can't afford to microchip, spay/neuter or euthanize their pet.

San Angelo, a third world community for animals

Update:  City Manager Daniel Valenzuela said the Animal Shelter could no longer do "no kill" in the aftermath of the roach infestation and horrific hoarding conditions.  Valenzuela's direction was pets would have finite stays in the shelter, after which they would be adopted, transferred or euthanized.  City Council approved a maximum number of pets allowed to be housed at the shelter.  

Since that change the shelter has continued operating under Pets Alive policies without citing the organization.  The community shelter agenda item is known as Human Animal Support Services at Pets Alive.

Leaving pets on the streets, as the City has done for over four years, means more loose animals running around.  El Paso knows.  San Angelo should have.

Update 10-19-23:  Many people attended the ASAC meeting today, however not enough committee members did.  The meeting was not held due to lack of quorum and those who took the time to participate in local governance were not heard.

Update 10-26-23:  More loose dogs, more dog-on-dog attacks.

This is a predictable consequence of shutting off intake, a multi-year effort by the Animal Shelter and City Council.  Last November Council approved a hard stop on dog intake.  The City wants to continue pushing responsibility for loose dogs on to residents.