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Hi Tor Holds Tense First Board Meeting Of Year

Many in the crowd complained about various board actions

 

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.”

Siobhan January 18, 2013 at 11:53 AM
The school board was a partisan shambles. The library board is a constant shambles. The County Legislature is a fiscal shambles The Clarkstown Town Board is a patronage shambles The Hi Tor Animal Care Center Board is a personnel shambles Maybe the poet laureate of Orangetown could pen a few words of comfort?
Observer January 18, 2013 at 11:56 AM
"After the meeting, people questioned how the shelter could return cash donations that came in through jars put in businesses around the county." was there an answer to this very smart question? or is another case of ready, fire, aim and collect-now-and-ask-questions-later by this fund raiser maven that lacks organization and note-taking? for 20 years, I've seen people here that will absolutely help a worthy cause but that care shouldn't be taken advantage of.
Richie Himes January 18, 2013 at 01:00 PM
Good article. If anyone didn't get to speak, it was their own fault for not signing up one the list.
Amy Wertheim January 18, 2013 at 01:27 PM
Thanks Adam. To clarify a few points, the current by laws are going to be voted on at the next meeting. Currently, term limits for any one position is limited to 6 years. The Board is proposing to change this to unlimited..........Roberta Bangs states that there is nothing in the by laws prohibiting relatives to serve on the board, yet there is a proposed change to include allowance of this. Why? A husband and wife currently serve. Thirdly, there is a proposed change to allow employer/employee directors on the board. One of the board members owns a business. Another director is her employee. These directors are forming policies that will insulate them; they can now say, "It's in the by-laws." Giving out your business card at any events should be completely disallowed. And, they know this, yet do it anyway. The President says she spends more money than she has. Vistaprint, Madam President, Vistaprint! So many amazing volunteers are walking away from this due to the corruption and deceit.
Amy Wertheim January 18, 2013 at 02:00 PM
Thanks to Adam for covering the meeting. I would like to clarify the by law revisions. Firstly, directors are under a "6 year term limit." The proposal is to make the term limit, limitless. Yes, that is correct, for as long as the director likes. The second proposal is to allow relatives to hold positions. A husband and wife sit on the board. President Bangs states that there is nothing precluding this, then why change the by laws? Thirdly, there is an employer and her employee on the board, and the proposal is to allow this as well. All of these changes, in effect, solidify that these "directors" are their forever! I find this to be unethical and undermines the forward progress of the Hi-Tor shelter. These directors pick and choose whom they want, and cast aside those that don't "bend" to their will. Because of their narrowmindedness, many generous donors and volunteers will stay away. The goal should be what is best for the animals. And, that is not what is happening here. As an aside, the President stated that she spends more money than she has? Really, And that she almost lost her job? Are we to feel sorry for her? These directors receive gain by passing out their business cards at Hi-Tor events. No, it isn't a salary, it's a way to circumvent. Passing out your real estate card is a way to advertise your business. Passing out your dog walking business card at an offsite adoption event is a way to obtain clients. We are not stupid. Please be honest about your duplicity!
Karen Tarapata January 18, 2013 at 02:13 PM
I don't think it is corruption. No one is getting rich from Hi Tor. I think it is that mistaken idea that "I and my friends are the only ones who can run this place." Hubris, not corruption.
d harding January 18, 2013 at 03:47 PM
-went to hi tor and made donations of blankets and food the storage sheds are a disgrace -they must have hundreds of pounds of food and another shed full of blankets and towels just thrown into the sheds -i am sure the volunteers are over whelmed but really guys ??? i had alos offered to help get them assisant with grants avialable -never heard one word back from anyone -uis it any wonder that this is going on? not to me!!!
Odd Job January 18, 2013 at 04:12 PM
If you truly care about the animals then you will not let anything get in the way be it personality issues or politics. The focus should be on the homeless animals that need help. If you volunteer to walk them, share their stories on your Facebook friends or help out at event, it all makes a very big difference in their futures. If for some reason you are not able to help out at Hi-Tor, please find another shelter, rescue group or organization to concentrate on and put your energies in a positive direction.
DLS January 18, 2013 at 05:11 PM
Such a shame that human personalities and egos have to get in the way of the real point of Hi Tor which is caring for and finding homes for the animals.
Warren G Harding January 18, 2013 at 05:11 PM
Let no good deeds go unpunished. I've lived in rockland for 50 years, this county is the whiniest, selfish, most self centered community I have ever seen. Why anyone bothers to try is a testament to their good character.
Amy Wertheim January 18, 2013 at 05:26 PM
Karen, good point. I do feel it is corrupt to ammend by laws to suit your current directorship. And, it is deceitful to present it as the course of business. I like hubris a lot!
Mavis Ronayne January 18, 2013 at 06:08 PM
Much of what is going on there is of great concern to me. There are reasons that there should not be close relationships between board members and even if the current board is not taking advantage of/abusing those relationships, (which I have no idea of whether they are or are not) by allowing it and putting them in the bylaws they may be permitting people in the future, who may not have good intentions, to have powers that they should not have. There are reasons that people in certain positions should not even give the "appearance of impropriety" - the loss of public confidence is certainly one of them.
Amy Wertheim January 18, 2013 at 06:25 PM
I am sensing a pattern; the ones who hide behind the "no name" fear that their comments will be read by the "wrong" people..................That's why the board nonsense is perpetuated. What exactly is your fear?
Donald Franchino January 18, 2013 at 07:11 PM
D Harding--There is a grant committee for the rebuild. Unfortunately the staff at the shelter is busy caring for the animals and very little time for followup. When the new shelter is constructed, there will be no need for these sheds. I would like to connect you with the grant committee. Thank you
Amy Wertheim January 18, 2013 at 11:17 PM
@ Mavis. Thank you for your insight. The "legal" representation for the board last night, Donald Tracy, proclaimed that as a not for profit, 501c3, the board can basically do whatever they want. They don't have to have open meetings and they can write by laws however they wish to. And, the President stated emphatically that these bylaws were written as such so that these board members could stay on as long as they like!
Wilma M January 18, 2013 at 11:32 PM
I personally volunteered for many months cleaning cages feeding walking etc. Spent enough time to see that the board doesn't want to let a inch of control away. How can you even say that there is no by-law regarding spouse being on the board, it is blatantly obvious why this is not a good idea. I have witness over the years countless people come and go -fellow animal lovers who left with frustration and disgust. I recall collecting empty toner cartridges to turn in for money that sat and sat and eventually ended up in the trash. Time and time again with a steady flow of good hearted people coming in and it almost always ends up the same way. Let the volunteers vote! They are the real people who keep the place afloat. LISTEN to people when you are requiring a kitten to stay till it is neutered when without question it has the best chance of finding a home early on. Take a refundable deposit at time of neutering. How can anyone look at this and think its a good policy? There are countless things that are going on that Don't help the animals and the board is deaf--don't question us but come back with money if you can! The sad thing is the word is out and people in Rockland are getting disgusted. I here it time and time again...IT needs to change NOW!
Melissa Jean January 18, 2013 at 11:37 PM
I am a former volunteer of Hi Tor Animal Care Center having moved out of the county early last year. I walked dogs primarily and kept to myself, not so much as to not interfere with the hard work of the staff but more, so that I would not have to endure the antics of a specific group of volunteers who seemed to be led by a woman who was the self-designated shelter photographer. Let's just say she made quite the impression on just about everyone she encountered and managed to offend, or chase off, just about every volunteer at one time or another. As time progressed I noticed particular alliances she made, most notably with the former executive director, followed by belligerent tirades bashing volunteers and later Hi Tor's board members. At first it was entertaining, but It got exhausting after a while and I stopped paying attention all together. Then I came across this article and felt the need to respond considering no one else has stepped forward to expose this group who I believe are out of control. I've never met any of the board members, but I have first-hand experiences with some of those who are against them through Facebook and personal interactions. The board may not have it together, but I can say with full confidence that the people who are doing the bashing are NOT to be taken seriously. My experience has been that they are a motley crew of emotionally unstable individuals who I would advise any sensible person, and their pets, to stay FAR away from.
Observer January 19, 2013 at 01:50 AM
I'm not sure any act of helping needs to be truly selfless. I don't see anything wrong with someone gaining (whether by recognition or networking) if it's at the same time they are helping a cause. admittedly I've not experienced interacting with the people passing out the business cards so I don't know if you're saying they are doing this INSTEAD of helping the cause or IN ADDITION to helping the cause, but I have met Ms Bangs a few times over the last few years at other Community events/causes and those exchanges have been positive with her being very pleasant to talk to. It's not easy being in charge of anything as you'll likely not be able to satisfy everyone. I would think we'd want the best people on the Board, not base it on people that have no relation or working relationship. Its a worthy cause, but like many of the folks replying here, some of the parties involved give reason for concern.
Observer January 19, 2013 at 01:51 AM
neither agreeing or disagreeing, but if you've lived in Rockland for 50 years - what community are you comparing this one to?
Joan K January 19, 2013 at 04:32 AM
I understand a lot of people wanted to be heard but they did not sign on the list to speak during the public participation part. I believe that the Executive Director was there but she did not get up and speak either which seemed unusual.
Amy Wertheim January 19, 2013 at 12:59 PM
@Joan, flip it around. The board is changing by laws to suit them personally, yet they cannot be flexible and let others speak. It is the only open meeting of the year, and the board shut it down at 7:40 p.m., while the meeting was slated from 6:30-9. And, the only person that was permitted to go over their "minutes" was someone who wanted to bash the fired Executive Director. So, the rules only apply when it suits them..............
Joan K January 19, 2013 at 02:53 PM
I must ask, why were you cleaning cages, doesn't Hi Tor have a paid staff for that?
Amy Wertheim January 20, 2013 at 03:10 AM
The volunteers that I have come across have raised thousands of dollars (in 2012, nearly $13,000). None of them are emotionally unstable. The photographer you speak of is my friend...............She fostered a pregnant chihuahua and her puppies, and continues to volunteer her time to photograph and get these animals adopted. The one sentence that strikes me in all this is "I've never met any of the board members....." Did it ever occur to you why you never met any of them while you were putting in your volunteer hours? There are two sides, and without having met any of these board members, you don't have the "full" picture.
Odd Job January 20, 2013 at 03:32 AM
The bashing that is done on various Facebook pages is truly juvenile and downright slanderous. To say that the board is like a sorority is much better than people who are acting worse than children in pre-school. If you are so unhappy with the way that the board are running things, then just leave and take your fund raising efforts elsewhere. Stop threatening that you are going to leave and just do it.
Amy Wertheim January 20, 2013 at 04:19 AM
I have done just that "Odd Job." I care about the animals getting adopted. There is nothing wrong with wanting that above everything...............I love how people come on here and don't reveal who they are. I won't be fund raising for Hi-Tor.............Not a threat, a fact.
Wilma M January 20, 2013 at 11:48 PM
I as a volunteer cleaned the cat cages changed litter changed bowl and fed them. I haven't been doing it for over 6 months. It would make me sick when the Girl Scout or some other organization would come and drop off all these toys and canned food that had been collected and it would be tossed in a shed or left in bags. I have seen bags of blanket get dumped because they were left out. The cats rarely get canned food or toys. The people I speak about that have given up most likely were not at the meeting. I speak about the course of 1 1/2 years or so. Adoption events no cages no vacation paper work foster parent would come in and then have to leave. Most people that volunteered would make comments and speak unsolicited about the total lack of organization. That nothing was being done to try to get these animals adopted. Now it would appear that that end of it has improved. The board needs to change for the good of the cause. It was overwhelming to say the least but the doors need to open up to fresh blood with new ideas.
Joan K January 23, 2013 at 12:57 AM
I am very happy to see that there is an effort to find homes for animals that have been at the shelter for a long time by a reduction in the adoption fee. A good step in the right direction.
James R April 25, 2013 at 05:28 PM
I don't understand why their monthly Board Meetings are closed to the public. They want money from the public but they don't want to allow them to sit and listen to what goes on and is discussed.
Odd Job April 26, 2013 at 02:45 PM
I find it amazing that this "Re-Build" group is doing so much fund raising and it seems like the actual shelter is doing next to nothing. The President of the Board wants donations in the form of money and supplies but they keep their meetings closed. If the meetings were open, the public would see exactly what they are up to. If you want to volunteer at the shelter you are required now to purchase a shirt for 7.00 and wear it when you are there. You must sign a waiver that basically is a huge "gag order" if you ask me. Anyone who is willing to abide by these "rules" is out of their mind. What this place needs is totally new management and new board members to breath some new life into the organization.
evelyn ringel April 26, 2013 at 07:57 PM
95% of the fundraising is coming in ONLY through the Re-Build effort and NOT the board of directors. One of the responsibilities of the board is fundraising. That's not happening. Only 1 member has done fundraising. The others are GREAT at alienating volunteers. That's a marketable skill.

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