Oxford’s Board of Aldermen on Tuesday warned the Oxford-Lafayette Humane Society (OLHS) to stick to the requirements of its management agreement and to stop accepting animals from outside the county.
The OLHS was required to provide an update on its operating conditions to the Board of Aldermen. The organization was the subject of controversy last summer when complaints were presented to the Board of Aldermen over the alleged unethical behavior of Cyd Dunlap, president of the OLHS Board of Directors, which ultimately led to six OLHS employees resigning. It was alleged that, under Dunlap’s orders, euthanasia was used as a first resort to maintain a half-capacity population at the shelter.
To demonstrate efforts to improve the shelter’s operations, Angie Avery, executive director of the OLHS, said in Tuesday’s meetings that the shelter has hired a full-time animal control officer and employs a part-time one as well. She noted that the staff turnover rate has slowed since July, with the loss of only one employee. Also, a recent transfer of 63 animals to Kalamazoo, Michigan has helped raise the live release rate as well as reduce the number of animals in the shelter.
According to a veterinarian from Mississippi State who inspected the shelter, it can hold between 60 and 100 animals. After the transfer of 63, 103 animals remain in the shelter.
When reviewing the animal intake over the span of four months (July through October), Avery said 15 percent of the animals (193 animals) were brought in from the city of Oxford, and 30 percent (391 animals) were taken in from Lafayette County.
“The other big [location] is Panola County,” Avery said. “Sixteen percent of our animals come from Panola County.”
Alderman John Morgan asked, “So we’re taking in more dogs from Panola County than we are [from] the city of Oxford? And, we’re paying for it?”
To which Avery answered, “No, we’ve fundraised for that portion.”
Alderman Janice Antonow, who has sat in on the last three OLHS board meetings, recommended the staff turn away any animals that are brought in from other counties.
“Angie, one thing you might want to consider is some of these communities are just not going to give you money,” Antonow said. “Some of these places, like Yalobusha County, we know they have an animal shelter there. Some people (in those places) just don’t know. So just tell them no … Tell them, this is where you take your dog. Hand them the address.”
Avery presented multiple reports, including the live release and euthanasia rates.
“Live release rate for this month is 44 percent. The euthanasia rate is 54 percent,” Avery said.
After an apparently surprised reaction from Morgan, Avery added, “I know that sounds really high, but I told you what the history with the Humane Society was. [During] one of the high years when I was tracking it, it was 81 percent euthanasia. So in 10 years, it’s going in the right direction.”
Antonow noted that members of 9 Lives Cat Rescue asked the OLHS board for space in the shelter. The board never gave an answer as the members were undecided. But Antonow had an answer for them.
“Y’all can’t do that,” Antonow said. “We can’t sublet space to another organization. We really can’t. There’s all kinds of issues with that. Our contract is with OLHS.”
Also at issue was a letter from a Ridgeland law firm, Taggart, Rimes and Graham, that suggested the OLHS is not subject to open meeting laws because it’s not a state entity. But Mayor Robyn Tannehill said the terms of the city’s agreement with the shelter require the OLHS to adhere to these laws.
“Interesting to me is that [the letter] was presented with the management agreement that y’all signed,” Tannehill said. “My question to you is, what are you committed to? This letter that y’all spent money to get an opinion on or the management agreement that says that you will do all those things that you signed [for]?”
Avery said, “My understanding of the management agreement … the issue that the board has is not [being able to] make any kind of decisions via email … just day-to-day sort of operational decisions that need to be made. It’s a very small board. It’s a volunteer board … So, we’re just wondering how we’re going to be making day-to-day operational decisions if that can’t be done via email.”
“Well, as long as you utilize that building and we provide funding, I would expect, and I will say this board will expect, for you to go completely by this management agreement that’s been signed, regardless of what any law firm specifies,” Tannehill said. “This is not saying by law you are required to do this thing, it’s saying by management agreement – of you being in a building we’re allowing you to be in, whether it’s convenient or not – I’m not trying to be ugly, but y’all signed a contract that you would operate in a manner that’s transparent and consistent with other municipal businesses, even though you’re not one. You agreed to do that.”
Avery responded, “I guess, from my understanding, there was a little bit of question on the difference between the new management contract and the guidelines for nonprofits. And the new management agreement seemed to go a step further than…”
“Right,” Tannehill interrupted. “And intentionally so.”
Avery asked if the management agreement would only last for three months, to which Tannehill responded, “This board will have to decide.”
Although nonprofits are not bound by open meeting laws, Tannehill made it clear that the OLHS has to follow the Board of Aldermen’s rules as long as they are using a city building. “So if at any time you wanted to choose a different building and a different method of funding … then that would be an option, but as long as it’s in our building, then we would expect you to follow to the letter this management agreement. Are y’all committed to that, or, by way of this letter that you presented, are you not?”
“I would say that, by virtue of signing the contract, we would agree to this,” Avery said. “If I’m wrong on that, the board, I guess, will get back to you.”
“OK,” Tannehill said. “You will conduct business that’s transparent and consistent with other municipal businesses. I understand that’s hard. It’s hard for us, but that’s just the requirement of being in that building and us continuing this relationship.”
By Randall Haley, associate editor of HottyToddy.com. She can be reached by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.