The first Hi Tor Animal Care Center Board of Directors meeting of the year turned somewhat contentious Thursday night during public participation.
Amy Wertheim, of Pearl River, got up and spoke about what she called a growing sentiment among volunteers with the shelter. The sentiment, she said, is that the board doesn’t want to allow new members on and tries to vote out anyone they don’t like. As the meeting ended, a few in the crowd yelled out what was going on was “disgraceful.” Many wanted the meeting to keep going, but the board voted to adjourn.
During the meeting, Hi Tor President President Roberta Bangs told the crowd at least five times that if they wanted to speak during public comments they had to sign up on a sheet at the front of the room. She also told the crowd they’d get three minutes each to speak, unless a lot of people signed up, in which case each speaker would get two. When the board finished its agenda and all public speakers were done, it was about 7:40 p.m. The board announced before the meeting they would have access to the room until 9 p.m., so people in the crowd wanted more time to speak, but Bangs said nobody else signed up to talk.
After the meeting, others described the board as “like a sorority,” “a closed club” and “cliquey.” Kristen Ross said she left the board due to “political drama.” Other volunteers and former volunteers said the actions of the board have soured their feelings on the shelter, and the board is taking a hit with the people who are out raising funds to keep it open.
The board currently has 12 members, and its bylaws state it has to have at least 10, but can’t have more than 20. At the meeting, it was announced that the nominating committee won’t be adding any more board members this year.
Bangs can’t sit on the nominating committee as acting president, but said she’s proposing an amendment at the next meeting to include an in-person interview for board applicants. Currently, people submit a resume and cover letter describing why they want to sit on the board, of which all positions are unpaid.
“I think having the people come in and interview might make people feel a bit better about the application process,” Bangs said. “If it makes people feel more at ease, then we should do it.”
The nominating committee has six people on it. Four members, split into groups of two, have ties that Wertheim and others complained about. Two of the board members are married and another board member employs the fourth.
“There’s nothing in our bylaws that states those things aren’t allowed,” Bangs said. “I just tried to pick the four people I think would give a fair shot to any applicants.”
Wertheim complained after the meeting about amendments to bylaws that were discussed at the meeting. One that didn’t pass at an earlier vote, and is included in the bylaws as a “minority suggestion,” is that no person related by blood or marriage to another director, or board member, should serve as an officer. Another amendment brought up at the meeting that didn’t pass earlier as well is that members can’t promote their own businesses at shelter events.
Another complaint tossed out was that a board member handed out personal businesses cards for another business at events that didn’t have anything to do with the event.
Bangs said they are ordering cards with contact info for Hi Tor on them and spaces for directors to write in their own contact info on them to distribute at events. While Bangs isn’t the board member accused of handing out the cards, she gave out cards from her job while at Hi Tor events, although not to promote her own work.
“We don’t have cards from the shelter,” she said. “If someone wants my contact info to reach me about something, that’s all I have to give them. But we’re going to order these cards, which will be bigger than business cards, and hopefully that will help.”
Bangs said one downside of that could be for businesses and individuals who help out at Hi Tor events. She said plenty of people volunteer their time at events and donate items, so they let them leave their cards out on a table at the events.
“If we’re going to these lengths, that’s probably something we should look at also,” Bangs said.
Bangs herself addressed some criticism of the board during her president’s report during the meeting. She said people were posting rumors on Facebook about board members, including that they get paid. She said she thinks the error came when someone looked up the budget and saw a salary for an executive director and assumed it was for board members, who are referred to as directors. The board eliminated the executive director position in December for budget reasons, according to Bangs.
“We are all volunteers. Most of us have our own jobs or our own businesses,” she said. “Contrary to what a former director posted on the Facebook, I am not on the take, I am not being paid off. If I were, I would probably be dressed better and wouldn’t be driving a 10-year-old car.”
After the meeting, another complaint people had was poor planning for the rebuild. Many said they didn’t think it was well thought out to start collecting money without a location or plan firmly set. At the meeting during public comments, one speaker asked what would happen to the roughly $150,000 collected for the rebuild if it doesn’t happen.
Treasurer Robert Salmon said they’ve recorded every donation they’ve received and will return the money. Salmon added that all the money for the rebuild was put into its own account and hasn’t been touched. After the meeting, people questioned how the shelter could return cash donations that came in through jars put in businesses around the county.
Bangs said during the meeting that Hi Tor has collected enough donations aside from rebuild donations that the shelter should be able to stay open all of 2013, although she added the hope is they’ll get a new building this year. She thanked the volunteers who fundraised for the shelter for helping them stay open.
“We thought we were going to be closing in July. We spent a lot of our meetings at the beginning of the year anticipating turning over the keys to the county and the towns by July,” Bangs said. “When we started to make our plea public, and a lot of that was with the help of Arlene Kahn of Save Hi Tor, as we went public, the public has stepped up. The public has raised money unlike any other organization I’ve been a part of. I’ve been on lots of boards of directors for various things, and I’ve never seen an outpouring like we have had from the community. I think all of the volunteers that work on the fundraising or members of the public that did their own fundraisers did an incredible job. I don’t know if the board could’ve done it at all without you.”