Sunday, October 8, 2017

Caddo Commissioner: "Give Transparency a Chance"

Caddo Parish Commission Work Session: 10/2/17
The Shreveport Times published a powerful Letter to the Editor last week about the abysmal failure of the Caddo Parish Animal facility that needs to go viral:

Jack Whitehead writes:

Something's wrong here: we have a Caddo Parish administrator in charge of an animal control operation that is obviously out of control. Check the record. Woody Wilson keeps doing the same thing in hiring incompetent animal shelter managers while expecting a different result.  
When does someone start asking meaningful questions about Dr. Wilson's competence here? Does he get supervision? Then, too, what will it take for him to even start thinking about privatizing our "if in doubt, kill 'em" animal sheltering program?  
Management by government isn't working. Management via private means, with public financing, would give us a chance to find managers motivated to make this operation work — for the animals and for us, the citizens. We could do right things right, if we just tried, for a change.

You know the cycle to which he refers.  Something horrific happens at CPAS, like mistakenly euthanizing the wrong cat or dogs tagged for rescue mistakenly being euthanized,  and the animal community gets up in arms.  We all march down to the Caddo Commission meeting, rail at the commissioners for their ineptitude, and nothing changes.  We might write letters or blog posts, we might organize meetings with our commissioners, but nothing changes.

Many politicians and citizens not involved in the animal community refer to us as "those crazy animal people."

We now have a chance for change, and I'm not talking about yet another new director of CPAS.

At the Caddo Commission work session on October 2, Commissioner Matthew Linn introduced
a proposal to amend the Home Rule Charter under which the Commission operates and allow for a provision for the Commission to hire an independent auditor.

Simply put, the way the Commission now works, the parish audits itself.  It's the equivalent of  Parish Administrator Woody Wilson writing his own test and grading it himself.

What Linn has figured out is that an outside audit is needed if anything is going to change.  It's simply good government.  Why wouldn't we want to follow known Best Practices in government and allow more transparency in what is going on in our local government?  There are legislative guidelines for local governmental bodies to follow and the Caddo Commission is not following those guidelines by virtue of their charter.

My theory is that Caddo Animal Services is just a distraction for whatever is going on elsewhere in the parish. Why does Mr. Wilson keep installing people to head that department who are inept?  If we are all up in arms about a mistakenly euthanized cat then we aren't paying attention to anything else.  The Parish Administrator should have fixed this ongoing problem and inept department by now.  I'm not saying anything nefarious is happening elsewhere in other areas of parish government, but how do we know?

Local animal advocate Cindy Marrus passionately appealed to the Commission on October 2, and in
Cindy Marrus: CPC Work Session 10/2/17
her three minutes recapped the latest atrocity at CPAS and pleaded, "How can you allow what's happening out there?  Aren't you embarrassed?  Don't you have pride?  Don't you care?"  Her tone was pleading and sorrowful - she wasn't ranting.  (You can listen to her remarks here; skip ahead to about 8:56).

Under Linn's proposal, the Commission could call for an audit of any department under their purview, including Animal Services.  You would think this would be a welcome change to the Home Rule Charter which currently does not provide for this.

During the meeting on October 2, Linn noted that he had provided literature about Best Practices in auditing and local government to the commissioners and some had even attended a meeting about it. He's done the research.

Ultimately, the voters have to approve this; all Linn is asking the Commission to do is to bring it before the voters.

Three commissioners voted against the proposal: Doug Dominick, John Atkins, and Louis Johnson.

Mr. Dominick said his concern is the cost of bringing this before the voters: if done in a special election (which nobody suggested) it would cost $225,000, but done during another regular election, like our mayoral election for example, the cost would be around $20,000.  Dominick also suggested that this should wait until the committee that meets every four years to discuss the Home Rule Charter convenes.  They last met in 2016 so my question to Mr. Dominick is how many more animals are you willing to see killed before you wait for this committee to meet in three more years?

Mr. Dominick suggested that a committee to audit financial issues might be okay but not operational issues.  "That's a whole 'nother ball of wax," he said.

But what if operations are your problem?

John Atkins expressed concern about changing the current charter and said that he believes the Commission could achieve the same results by forming an audit committee, which in essence is the same as I said before: writing and grading your own test.  This is not transparent and subject to a host of political shenanigans, vote trading, bargaining, etc., - not that I'm suggesting anyone would do that, but clearly an independent audit is preferred and is a known best practice.

Incredibly, to me, Louis Johnson said he thinks things are just fine the way they are.  He said, "We have people in place who are doing a great job...".  It seems that Mr. Johnson confused the issue as a no-confidence vote against Parish Administrator Woody Wilson, and that's simply not what's on the table. While Mr. Johnson said that we can offer compassion to the woman whose cat was euthanized, he said he was offering "a confidence vote for what we have in place."  So, the abysmal failure of CPAS is just fine with Louis Johnson.

Mr. Johnson, by the way, is serving as interim Commissioner after the resignation of Ken Epperson.  The election for this seat will be October 14.

Remember, all that Mr. Linn is asking them at this point is to bring this issue before the voters - asking for the authority to have an independent audit of parish departments if needed. In concurrence,  Lyndon Johnson noted "what we're doing is not working," because the charter right now does not allow for independent audits.  In the meeting Johnson also noted that "we know there are issues with animal services and we need to make a change and see if we can do something different."

Steven Jackson said, "I felt sort of remiss when I heard about this.  This is not a slight on's about asking the citizens what is their preferred method for best practices."

Commissioner Chavez agreed: "Caddo Parish Animal Services has failed...We keep putting our trust in what's not working.  Something's got to give."

The list of atrocities at CPAS is lengthy, from selling animals out the back door, to bestiality, and countless accidental incidents of euthanization. It's been going on for over a decade.  Clearly the Commissioners, nor anyone else, know exactly what's going on there.  Just try and volunteer at CPAS - good luck on that.

In truth the only person that knows what's going on in all departments of parish government is Parish Administrator Woody Wilson; the Caddo Commission does not because there's no transparency.  As Parish Administrator, we expect that Woody Wilson would want to utilize known Best Practices in government and offer transparency to voters, animal advocates, citizens.  He should be advocating for this change in charter.  He is not.

Linn said at the work session, "Yes, it's going to cost $20,000 to put this on the ballot but it's worth it to let the citizens vote and see if they want us to follow what is known as Best Practices...Give transparency a chance."

I think he's right.

Everyone in Caddo Parish should advocate for this, and to appeal to your Commissioner to support this.  Don't we want transparency?  Don't we want to ensure accountability?  Look at what the City uncovered when the water department was audited!  We have a chance to change.

If the Commissioners could fix CPAS, they would.  They can't because they can't get involved in the departmental operations there.  This proposal would give them the authority to do that and to uncover the Wizard behind the screen.

Find your Commissioner here. Ask them to support this amendment.

Further Reading:
Shreveport Times:  Caddo Commission Mulls Adding Independent Auditor
Shreveport Times:  Out of Control Animal Shelter
Association of Local Government Auditors


K E said...

Pat, thank you, again, for your concise and accurate summary of the horrific practices of Caddo Parish Animal Shelter. Your clarity of understanding always wows me; and, this time, you have made a point that changed my consideration of the proposed Charter amendment.

I had been very disappointed that the proposed amendment would not, simultaneously, call for relieving Administrator Wilson of any responsibilities, duties, connection or involvement in the business of Caddo Parish Animal Shelter, by providing for contracted shelter management and operations. If I understand correctly, from my search for legal remedies, apparently, the specifics of the Caddo Parish Administrator job description are, too, provided by Parish Charter, and changes to his duties would also require amendment and Parish-wide vote.

I now see that Linn believes his present proposed amendment is a necessary step to allow outside audit to determine what we all know must happen if CPAS is to ever provide humane services to our animals in need, and respectful and compassionate interaction with pet owners, and the professional rescue, foster and transport organizations which serve this Parish, be they local or based out of town or state.

As for the $20,000, that is an insignificant sum compared to the costs of years of chaos at that facility and efforts to halt it—
• the unimaginable number of meetings and negotiations that yielded only temporary relief, if any at all;
• the outcrys in formal testimony before the Commission;
• and public protests;
• and, the frantic, yet so incredibly successful efforts — at tremendous costs that would not have had to be spent IF we had a humane shelter — on organizing transports to places far away, as fast as our rescue community could find placements out of Caddo Parish to save every life they possibly can;
• not to mention that, by a revision of the present budget I prepared, assisted by experts here and out of state, and presented at a recent Animal Services Sub-Committee meeting, the savings, that will be realized by contract of all shelter services to a private or non-profit animal welfare organization, far exceed that small cost of $20,000 by 100s of 1000s of dollars.
$20,000 is nothing compared to the costs of not having done ANYTHING to remedy ANY of the recurring travesties sooner; and it is nothing compared to the costs that continue until a major overhaul and transfer of responsibilities and operations of CPAS.

I better understand that, upon Commission majority vote to proceed with amendment to be listed on ballot, and passage by citizens of the Parish, we must wait, yet again, for results that will, again, be largely left up to Dr. Wilson to convey accurately and without bias to his obvious unwillingness to relinquish his power of all purchases and all administrative functions over the un-shelter, as it remains to be.

Meanwhile, MANY 1000s more animals will be needlessly killed, including animals that are, and were, perfectly healthy and adoptable upon imprisonment there (if they weren’t sold illegally out the back door, or “lost”).

I understand that Linn’s amendment seems the only option to get where we need to be via guidelines and protocols for Commission action. Thank God, for Matthew Linn’s commitment to knowledge and finding any options available! And, as always, thanks to those rescuers and advocates, here and afar, whose unceasing dedication to saving each precious life, of OUR community’s animals in desperate need, can never be valued and lauded enough.

IF, after receiving the recommendations of the, hopefully passed, Commission vote and ensuing outside audit, there is still no sufficient action taken to get CPAS out from under W. Wilson’s poor record of irresponsible and inhumane control, I can then only hope that legal or legislative remedies will be sought.

(Part ONE of TWO) continued to next comment...

K E said...

(Part TWO of TWO)

Thank you again, Pat, for your dedication to educating and informing the public of the complexities of this tragic situation which is a tremendous embarrassment to this community, right alongside the barbaric prevalence of dog fighting, backyard breeders, and chained-dog practices in the private sector. I know most people are so overwhelmed they don’t know what to do. But I am reminded to think of this: “if you cannot feed a hundred....then feed just one.” (Mother Teresa)

That public needs also know that there are hundreds of thousands of animal advocates across the country who, too, via professional blogs and meetings, particularly over the past year, are watching and waiting for certain resolve in the coming months, before engaging national attention to the countless tragedies by the hands and inaction of those who administrate, supervise, and work for our Parish Shelter, which so sadly kills at a rate that exceeds that of most anywhere else in the U.S. Yes, that is the state of affairs, as it has been, almost without relief to our animals, for the last seven years, right here in what we might wish to be a civilized community. As it stands, it is not, even just based on the abuse and neglect of animals this Parish and its citizens have continued to allow.

Please, readers, call your Commissioner THIS WEEK, and ask for a “yes” vote on the outside audit proposition as amendment to the Parish Charter. And, for God's sake, pass this blog along to everyone you know who could possibly make one phone call to their Commissioner to beg for their "yes" vote.

And, remember: - - - - - - - -
Not to hurt our humble brethren (the animals) is our first duty to them, but to stop there is not enough. We have a higher mission--to be of service to them whenever they require it... If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.
-- Saint Francis of Assisi

Janet Kennedy said...

Great blog with valid points. I have been saying all along that Woodrow Wilson is the one holding this shelter back. I can not believe he has not been voted off of this commission long before now. He has no love for the animals, and he hires people that may be very nice and likable, but they also have no great love of the animals. All the staff that is hired may like animals, but they are not PASSIONATE about them. I have been in the lobby on several occasions when people come in to either adopt or drop off a dog or cat. ZERO customer service! Most who enter that lobby feel like they are not welcome. The volunteers have never felt welcome even though they are using their spare time to help the staff DO THEIR JOBS at no pay. Why would Woodrow Wilson boot out the in-facility rescue that has saved THOUSANDS of dogs in the high kill shelter? Why would he simply take the word of two employees that had complaints about the way the woman asked them TO DO THEIR JOBS? Mr. Wilson gave no thoughts to what would happen to the furs at this shelter when he asked the in-facility rescue to vacate the building. He simply doesn't care. He is an albatross to Caddo Parish Animal Shelter and is keeping this shelter from moving forward. He is old school and has outdated ideas and his lack of compassion is obvious.