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Archive for the ‘Humane Society’ Category

Humane Society board confronts Marion chief’s allegations: Board says it “supports fully all of our employees and volunteers”

In Humane Society on June 6, 2008 at 7:34 pm

The board of directors of the Cedar Valley Humane Society on Friday said it heard Marion Police Chief Harry Daugherty earlier this week and now wanted to respond.

Daugherty on Tuesday reported that the Marion Police Department was recommending that the Linn County Attorney file felony theft charges against the person at the Humane Society’s animal shelter responsible for handling billing.

The chief did not name a suspect, but did say, “Somebody down there has to be responsible.”

Linn County Attorney Harold Denton is now reviewing the Marion Police Department’s recommendation.

On Friday, the Humane Society board, through attorney Mark Brown of Cedar Rapids, said that the board “supports fully” all of its employees and volunteers. The board further said that it has and will cooperate with the Marion Police Department investigation and hoped that it would come to a “just” result.

The Marion police raided the shelter, at 7411 Mount Vernon Rd., and seized billing records after a preliminary investigation and a former shelter employee raised questions about the shelter’s billing practices.

On Tuesday, Daugherty said his investigators recommended that a first-degree theft charge be filed in the matter, a severity of crime that requires the theft of more than $10,000.

Daugherty said his investigators looked at the animal shelter’s billing records from 2006, 2007 and 2008.

By way of example, Daugherty said one allegation is that the shelter billed the city of Marion after picking a stray animal up in Marion even though the owner came to the shelter and paid the fee.

The Humane Society animal shelter is different than the city of Cedar Rapids’ animal shelter. The Humane Society’s facility serves the Linn County area outside of Cedar Rapids, although the city of Marion, for now, is using the city of Cedar Rapids’ services.

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Nice marks for Cedar Valley Humane Society overshadowed by Marion police probe; probe done; criminal charges recommended

In Humane Society, Marion on June 3, 2008 at 11:09 pm

The Cedar Valley Humane Society on Tuesday reported good marks from both the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and the Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Department on the performance of the Humane Society’s animal shelter at 7411 Mount Vernon Rd.

However, on Wednesday, Linn County Attorney Harold Denton confirmed that the Marion Police Department investigation into billing irregularities at the animal shelter is complete. Denton said the  Marion findings are now in his hands for review and the possible filing of criminal charges.

Meanwhile, Marion Police Chief Harry Daugherty on Wednesday reported that his investigators are recommending that Denton file felony theft charges against the management person at the animal shelter who has been responsible for billing. He did not name a name. “Somebody done there is responsible,” the chief said. He added that the Humane Society’s board of directors has been apprised of the status of the police investigation.

It was back in April that the Humane Society’s board of directors asked both the state and city agencies to take a look at its shelter operation following on the heels of a Marion Police Department raid in March in which investigators seized the shelter’s billing records.

In addition to the police raid, a former shelter employee filed a complaint with the state veterinary board, raising questions about the shelter’s treatment of animals. The former employee also alleged that the shelter was a “hostile workplace.”

According to Humane Society board member and spokeswoman Stephanie Holub, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship conducted a random animal welfare inspection at the shelter on May 20.

“All findings in the report were positive, including the condition of the housing facilities, premises, sanitation, veterinary care and records,” Holub reported.

A look at the state department’s report on Wednesday revealed as much. The state inspector gave appoval ratings on all 36 different items it reviewed at the shelter.

The Humane Society’s Holub said Michelle McMurray, an investigator with the city of Cedar Rapids’ Civil Rights Department, also conducted a review of the shelter and filed a report in May.

Holub quoted McMurray’s report: “It appears that the staff commitment to animals and the facilities’ customers is unwavering. There were no reported issues amongst staff members. … It is evident that the staff has a commitment to the animals and their jobs. Staff members appear to work well as a team.”

Holub noted that Doug Fuller, a Humane Society board member and retired Cedar Rapids police detective, continues to serve in an informal leadership role at the shelter. He is providing daily oversight of record-keeping, billing and personnel and volunteer activities, Holub said.

The board of directors has concluded it no longer needs an additional independent consultant to help with the shelter’s management, she said.

Linn Auditor Miller said, show me the report, I’ll show you the money; Humane Society shelter complies

In Humane Society, Linn County government on May 20, 2008 at 3:28 pm

Linn County Auditor Joel Miller asked about the county’s funding of the Cedar Valley Humane Society animal shelter — which is under investigation for billing irregularities — and Miller now has received.

This week, the Humane Society submitted a simple monthly report in writing, as required in its contract with Linn County, and Miller was satisfied.

Two weeks ago, Miller said he would hold up the county’s $5,000 monthly check to the Society’s shelter if it did not submit a written report as required.

In truth, what Miller discovered was that the county’s Public Health office and county’s Board of Health over time had been satisfied with a monthly verbal report on animal bites from the Humane Society shelter. The office and board decided it didn’t need a written report

Miller got involved because a taxpayer, who has been following the Marion Police Department’s probe of the Humane Society shelter’s billing records, asked Miller for the required reports from the shelter to the county. Miller, who signs the county’s checks, discovered that the county didn’t have any reports to send to anyone. He asked about it, and Tom Hart, Public Health environmental supervisor who oversees the county contract with the shelter, said he would see that the shelter began submitting written monthly reports again.

“I got what I needed,” Miller said this week after the Humane Society shelter submitted a report of its activities for April to the Public Health office and health board. Miller described the report as “simplistic,” but sufficient for his needs — proof, he said, that the county contract, which requires a written report, is being satisfied.

The Humane Society shelter, which was raided by the Marion Police Department in March and had its billing records seized, handles animal control and the sheltering of animals for jurisdictions outside of the city of Cedar Rapids.

Public Health’s Hart said the Board of Health on Monday accepted the shelter’s one-page written activity report and recommended two additions — animal bites by species and a more complete monthly census of animals.

Hart noted that the Humane Society’s shelter continues in a transition of sorts since its longtime director, Pat Hubbard, retired back in 2001.

“This is what they need to do is get their feet real settled on procedure and work out the differences with Marion and other cities,” Hart said of the Humane Society shelter and the new written monthly report. “But the Board of Health was convinced that we’re getting a value for our service.”

Plans for city’s new animal shelter progressing; CR serving Marion during Humane Society shelter probe

In City Hall, Humane Society, Jerry McGrane, Marion on April 22, 2008 at 4:21 pm

Police Sgt. Kent Choate, who oversees the city of Cedar Rapids’ animal control operation, reported this week that City Hall is moving ahead on its plans to move the city shelter from an old sewage treatment plant seven miles from downtown to a more centralized location.

“We’re looking at a lot of different options. There is no front-runner right now,” Choate said.

Among the options are empty big-box stores and other buildings closer to the center of the city. The seven-mile trip to the existing shelter on Old River Road SW just isn’t very efficient, Choate pointed out.

He noted, too, that the City Council has set aside $1.5 million in its capital improvement budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 for a new animal shelter.

Developments at the city’s animal shelter have taken a side seat in recent weeks to those at a second shelter in the metro area, the Cedar Valley Humane Society shelter.

In late March, the Marion Police Department raided the Humane Society shelter and seized billing records. The department continues to investigate possible overbilling.

In response, the Humane Society has appointed one of its volunteers to oversee the management of its shelter operation and has asked the Iowa Veterinary Board and the Cedar Rapids Civil Service Commission to take a look at the shelter’s practices.

More recently, Jerry McGrane, Cedar Rapids council member, has wondered if the time might be right for the city to approach the Humane Society anew to see about joining forces on a combined animal shelter. Early efforts at that over the last year failed.

City Manager Jim Prosser told the council just last week that city staff was in the process of talking to the Humane Society again.

Choate this week, though, noted that the missions of the two groups are different. The city’s first mission is animal control, while the Humane Society’s first mission is not that, he said.

Choate noted that the city of Cedar Rapids is providing temporary animal control and shelter services to the city of Marion pending the Marion Police Department’s investigation into the Humane Society’s animal shelter.

Marion’s City Manager Lon Pluckhahn said it made sense for the city of Marion to turn to the city of Cedar Rapids for now until the probe of the Humane Society’s shelter is complete and its results known.

Pluckhahn did not rule out a future in which the city of Marion permanently contracted with the city of Cedar Rapids for animal control or shelter services. That’s not apt to happen, he suggested, if Cedar Rapids’ new shelter ended up being located far from the city of Marion as is the city’s current shelter. But if a spot in easy reach of Marion was chosen for the city’s new animal shelter site, that might allow Marion to take a look, Pluckhahn said.

The Humane Society’s shelter has been serving areas in Linn County outside of the city of Cedar Rapids.

Earlier this year, the Humane Society announced its own expansion plans.

 

Humane Society still awaits news on police raid; a third former employee seeks back compensation

In Humane Society, Marion on April 16, 2008 at 5:34 pm

A third former employee at the Cedar Valley Humane Society animal shelter has filed a lawsuit seeking compensation she says she was entitled to and was not paid.

The lawsuit by Nikole Ehrenberger is similar to ones filed in the last few months by two other former shelter employees, Sarah Young and Joy Jager.

Ehrenberger said she was dismissed by the shelter last summer.

She spoke along with a fourth former shelter employee, Tarah Young, Sarah Young’s twin sister.

Ehrenberger and the Young sisters, all 23 years old, remain in the animal care field, and all three would go back to the Humane Society shelter to work because caring for animals is their central concern.

Ehrenberger and Tarah Young, who also reported that she was dismissed from the shelter, say they could help make the Humane Society operation better than it was when they worked there.

The lawsuits are dwarfed by another Humane Society concern: The society’s board of directors continues to wait to see what the Marion Police Department has turned up in its investigation of the animal shelter’s billing records. The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation is helping the Marion department dig through the records.

In spectacular fashion, Marion police officers raided the shelter the evening of March 25 and seized business records.

The department is looking to see if the shelter overbilled customers. Those customers include the city of Marion and several other small cities in the county.

Stephanie Holub, Humane Society board member and media liaison, on Wednesday said the society’s board of directors was still waiting to hear from the Marion police.

She pointed out, as she did 10 days ago, that the board has implemented several changes in light of the police investigation and also a complaint filed by a former employee with the state veterinary board. The changes are:

— Hire an independent consultant to review and provide advice on the operation of the society’s shelter at 7411 Mount Vernon Rd. east of Cedar Rapids.

— Ask Doug Fuller, a Humane Society board member, active shelter volunteer and retired police detective, to take a formal leadership role at the shelter.

— Invite the Iowa Veterinary Board to conduct random inspections to put to rest any allegation of animal mistreatment.

— Ask the Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission to investigate the accusations of a former employee critical of the shelter and its work environment.

In a talk with Ehrenberger and Tarah Young, both raised questions about the medical care of some of the animals and the quality of some employees when they worked at the shelter.

 

 

Verdict still out on Cedar Valley Humane Society shelter; society’s board assures public again

In City Hall, Humane Society, Jerry McGrane, Marion on April 6, 2008 at 4:02 am

With word still out on a Marion police investigation into billing practices at the Cedar Valley Humane Society’s animal shelter, the society’s board of directors on Saturday announced steps to shore up its credibility.

The board said it will:

— Hire an independent consultant to review and provide advice on the operation of the society’s shelter at 7411 Mount Vernon Rd. east of Cedar Rapids.

— Ask Doug Fuller, a Humane Society board member, active shelter volunteer and retired police detective, to take a formal leadership role at the shelter.

— Invite the Iowa Veterinary Board to conduct random inspections to put to rest any allegation of animal mistreatment.

— Ask the Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission to investigate the accusations of a former employee critical of the shelter and its work environment.

 In a written statement, Charles Abraham, the society’s board chairman and a veterinarian, said the four steps announced Saturday reflect many of the goals that have been a part of the shelter’s strategic plan.

 At the same time, Abraham denied allegations that either employees or animals at the shelter had been mistreated.

He noted that a national consulting firm, Shelter Planners of America, examined the Humane Society shelter’s performance in recent months and gave the shelter a rating of 7 out of 10. Most shelters score less well on such first reviews, he said.

Several members of the Humane Society’s board spoke to The Gazette on March 26, the day after the evening raid at the shelter by the Marion police. The Marion department, with the help of an Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation agent, has said it is looking at the shelter’s past billing practices.

On March 26, board member Fuller said he had been working the phone to try to put shelter supporters’ minds at ease.

“And it’s difficult when you don’t have a clue exactly what you’re being accused of,” he said then.

In addition, board member Wilford Stone, a local attorney, said that there is always a possibility of accounting errors and “some things falling through the cracks.” But he said errors were not crimes.

A district court judge has sealed court records related to the search warrant in the Marion police raid of the shelter. Those warrants usually detail who is making allegations and what the allegations are.

The Gazette earlier reported that two former shelter employees, Joy Jager and Sarah Young, have filed lawsuits against the Humane Society in the last few months. Stone said the two are asking for compensation they say is owed them.

In January, the Iowa Employment Appeal Board denied Jager’s claim for jobless benefits. On a 2-1 vote, the board concluded, as an administrative law judge had earlier, that Jager resigned and so was not entitled to jobless benefits. Jager was ordered to return $1,676 in jobless benefits that had been paid her pending the appeal.

According to the appeal board’s ruling, Jager had alleged in her jobless claims appeal that the Humane Society had put sick cats up for adoption, had incomplete medical records and had operated on short staff.

The Cedar Valley Humane Society is a private, non-profit organization that depends on donations and volunteers. Donations and support for the shelter is up since allegations have surfaced against the shelter, board members say.

The Humane Society just six weeks ago launched a public campaign to raise money for a $1.5-million expansion of its shelter.

The shelter has handled about 3,000 animals a year, as does Cedar Rapids animal shelter off Old River Road SW. The Cedar Rapids shelter, which is run by public dollars with the help of volunteers, is looking to upgrade its facility independent of the Humane Society’s shelter.

Just last week, Cedar Rapids City Council member Jerry McGrane noted that both the Humane Society shelter and the city’s shelter were looking to invest in costly improvements, and he suggested the two shelters once again discuss the possibility of merging into one, better operation.

Such a discussion did not lead to anything in recent months, and in recent weeks, the Humane Society has said it isn’t interested and that the metro area is large enough for two facilities.

One metro area, two animal shelters, two costly plans to upgrade: Is it time to join forces?

In City Hall, Humane Society, Jerry McGrane, Marion on April 3, 2008 at 4:25 am

It hasn’t escaped the notice of Cedar Rapids council member Jerry McGrane that the Cedar Valley Humane Society’s animal shelter has been in the headlines of late.

The Humane Society’s shelter, which serves much of Linn County outside of Cedar Rapids, was raided by the Marion Police Department last week amid questions about the shelter’s billing practices. An agent of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation is helping the Marion department analyze what it has seized.

All of this has come just as the Humane Society had recently announced plans for a $1.5-million expansion of its animal shelter at 7411 Mount Vernon Rd. just east of Cedar Rapids.

At Wednesday evening’s Cedar Rapids council meeting, McGrane suggested to the city staff that the Humane Society’s apparent public-relations pickle might make for the perfect time to again approach the Humane Society about joining forces with the city.

The city of Cedar Rapids, he noted, is looking at relocating its own animal shelter, which is located in a former solid waste treatment building at the far reaches of the city along Old River Road SW. The cost of relocation, which city staff has said might be to an existing building closer to the center of town, could be $1.5 million or more.

“This is an opportunity for the city’s animal control and the Cedar Valley Humane Society to join together,” McGrane suggested to his council colleagues and to the city staff. “I know they have problems now.”

Together, McGrane said, the two animal shelters could build “a pretty elite place” for animals that also would be nicer for employees and the volunteers that both shelters have come to depend on.

“I don’t see any reason for them building a big addition and us doing the same and for us to fighting each other for volunteers,” he said.

City manager Jim Prosser noted that city staff members had been investigating city options to relocate the city’s shelter, and Prosser said the plan had been to report to the council in upcoming weeks.

Prosser seemed to indicate that at McGrane’s request the city staff would add to its list of options the idea of approaching the Humane Society again about possible collaboration.

Such a discussion has occurred in months passed, but it ended in an impasse. The city had said that the price tag was too high for the city to help pay for the expansion of the Humane Society shelter and then to pay annual lease payments to use the place.

Both shelters handle about 3,000 animals a year.

In two interviews in recent weeks with Humane Society board members – first at the announcement of their expansion, and then in reaction to last week’s police raid – the board members expressed no interest in merging forces with the city shelter. Both shelters are needed, the board said.

The city’s Prosser, who has talked about a regional shelter, has said recently that most metropolitan areas of Cedar Rapids’ size often have more than one entity caring for animals.

Upshot of Humane Society police raid still unknown: jobless claim reveals unhappy former employee

In Humane Society, Marion on March 30, 2008 at 12:54 am

The details on last week’s evening-time police raid at the Cedar Valley Humane Society’s animal shelter at 7411 Mount Vernon Rd. east of Cedar Rapids are yet to be told.

 The Marion Police Department says it seized billing records to see if the shelter has billed its customers, which include Linn County and several cities in the county, too much.

A Linn County judge now has sealed the court-approved search warrant used in the raid, which likely spells out who and what prompted the police to turn up at a place that cares for 3,000 dogs and cats a year.

What is known is what Harry Daugherty, Marion police chief, has said: His department got a call about the shelter about six weeks ago from an unnamed person.

Among what is known, too, is that two former shelter employees, Joy Jager and Sarah Young, both have filed lawsuits against the shelter in the last couple months. Both are seeking compensation they say is due them, says Wilford Stone, a Cedar Rapids attorney and Humane Society Board member who is representing the Humane Society.

Another  little window into the goings-on at the shelter is revealed in a ruling by the Iowa Employment Appeal Board in January.

In the ruling, the employment board ruled by a vote of 2-1 that former shelter employee Joy Jager, of Ryan, Iowa, was not entitled to jobless benefits from the shelter. The board majority ruled that Jager quit her job as a full-time receptionist at the shelter on Sept. 26 after working at the shelter two years. The board majority said she had not been entitled to jobless benefits, and ordered her to return $1,676 in benefits she had received.

An administrative law judge earlier had reached the same conclusion.

In the ruling of Judge Devon Lewis last November, she states:

Jager was upset at work on Sept. 26, 2007, and announced to shelter volunteer and board member Doug Fuller that she was going to resign. Jager was upset that the shelter’s co-directors, Sandy LeBaw and Susan Manson, were away attending a conference when Jager thought one should have stayed behind at the shelter. Jager expressed other complaints about management in the few months preceding that and had twice written resignation letters.

Fuller urged Jager to wait until the two co-directors returned so she could iron out differences with them. About 15 minutes later, LaBaw called and told Fuller to accept Jager’s resignation and to escort her from the shelter. LaBaw also called Jager herself to tell her to turn in her keys.

Judge Lewis concluded that Jager voluntarily quit without good cause attributable to the employer and was not discharged.

“The issue in this case of whether claimant (Jager) quit or was fired is a matter of credibility. Since claimant had twice before submitted resignations and had never been advised her job was in jeopardy but had been asked repeatedly to stay, employer’s version of the events is more reliable,” the judge wrote.

The judge continued: “Claimant’s dissatisfaction that both supervisors were absent at one time and her dislike of various management decisions were not good cause reasons attributable to the employer for leaving. Benefits are denied.”

Jager appealed to the three-member Employment Appeal Board.

In a Jan. 14, 2008, ruling, Appeal Board members Elizabeth Seiser and Mary Ann Spicer agreed with the administrative law judge while member John Peno dissented.

Peno called the case “a close call.”

However, he said he believed Jager was only thinking of quitting, and he cites Jager’s fellow employee, Sarah Young, who testified on Jager’s behalf. Young testified that she believed Jager had been discharged.

Peno also said Jager quit for good cause if she quit. He noted that she had testified that she was concerned about shelter activities, which Jager said included sick cats being put up for adoption, incomplete medical records and short staffing.

A call to Jager was not returned.

Don’t lose sight of One-Eye Willy in probe of Humane Society billing, says Society’s board

In Humane Society on March 26, 2008 at 8:25 pm

Several members of the Cedar Valley Humane Society’s board of directors on Wednesday morning expressed shock and confusion that Marion police officers and investigators Tuesday evening raided the Society’s shelter, at 7411 Mount Vernon Rd., and seized records.

The records included intake tickets, receipt books and billing records, said Humane Society board member Wilford Stone, an attorney with Lynch Dallas PC in Cedar Rapids.

He and other board members said any kind of errors in billing at the shelter is one thing, criminality associated with it is another.

“Could some things fall through the cracks, could there be some kind of accounting error or something?” Stone asked. “I’m not aware of that. But that could happen.

“Is there any intent or someone trying to intentionally steal or commit theft or commit a fraudulent practice? We have no knowledge of that. And no one has ever reported that to us that that is occurring.”

Marion Police Chief Harry Daugherty on Wednesday said his department, with the help of an agent from the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, is looking at the shelter’s billing records to see if anything is amiss. The Marion department has been investigating the matter for about six weeks leading up to the Tuesday evening raid, the chief said. A citizen phone call prompted the probe, he added.

The board members at the shelter, which serves all of Linn County outside of the city of Cedar Rapids, said any problems in the books can be remedied.

But they worried on Wednesday that all the good that they said the shelter does could be lost in the headlines of the investigation.

The shelter, which has paid co-directors and seven other paid workers, depends on donations and the help of more than 100 volunteers to pay the bills and care for 3,000 animals a year. Just a month ago, the shelter board announced a $1.5-million expansion plan, saying it already had $500,000 in hand.

But board member Doug Fuller on Wednesday said the questioning phone calls were already coming into the shelter.

“Just what the heck is going on out at the shelter,” he said callers are asking. “And it’s difficult when you don’t have a clue exactly what you’re being accused of.”

Board member Peggy Fite said, “Whatever it is, we’ll fix it. But, ultimately, you can’t lose the picture that this facility needs to exist.”

Fite pointed to the 45 animals that the Linn shelter rescued from Ottumwa in recent weeks and is now nursing back to health. One of those is a dog with the name One-Eye Willy. Who would have taken care of him if the Humane Society shelter hadn’t? she said.

“Those animals were brought back to the shelter, and volunteers came in here on a Friday night to bath them. … And you know those animals are being adopted out now,” Fite said.

Susan Manson, one of the shelter’s co-directors, said news like the current billing investigation has the potential to harm years of hard work and community building.

“We rely on the generosity of our volunteers and donors, and without that, who else would provide this service?” she said.