No More Barking

After the executive director of Alameda’s animal shelter left, the shelter and city stopped fighting, agreed to a new deal, and started talking about building a new facility.


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The city and FAAS reached a deal to keep the Alameda animal shelter open for at least two years.

Photos by Clayton J. Mitchell

Negotiations between the city and the nonprofit that has run Alameda’s animal shelter since 2011 were certainly no day at the dog park. Over the past year, animosity on both sides was clearly evident, and the situation seemed to reach a flashpoint when the Friends of Alameda Animal Shelter, or FAAS, unleashed an aggressive public outreach campaign to drum up support for their cause through a letter-writing campaign and social media. FAAS and its supporters even threatened to shut down the shelter unless the city dramatically increased its funding from roughly $300,000 annually to $1.9 million.

But what a difference a few months can make. By early June, the fighting had ceased and the city and FAAS had reached an $800,000-a-year deal to keep the shelter running for two more years. At a June 6 council meeting, it was hugs and kisses all around as city councilmembers talked openly about floating a bond measure to pay for a new shelter facility.

So what happened? The thaw in the relationship between the city and the shelter coincided with the departure in March of FAAS executive director Nancy Baglietto, who oversaw the bare-knuckled campaign against the city. In addition, residual bad feelings from the initial 2011 contract may have played a part in the early problems during the recent negotiations between FAAS, Baglietto, and the city, said Councilmember Malia Vella.

“I thought it was a little odd to have them start off from a very negative standpoint— attacking [the] council—especially when I’ve never voted on a FAAS contract, and they were in the middle of an existing contract,” said Vella. “They were telling us, ‘You need to agree to this or else we’re going to shut down,’ but we don’t have the audited financials.”

Another turning point occurred when Alameda City Manager Jill Keimach ordered an audit of FAAS and its initial proposal. As the magazine noted in March, “A Whole Lot of Growling,” the audit concluded that FAAS was seeking salary hikes of up to 67 percent and that Baglietto’s salary stood to jump 55 percent to $140,000 a year. Just weeks after the news of the audit became public, Baglietto resigned and took a job in another town. She was replaced by John Lipp, who was elevated to acting executive director. In the ensuing weeks, FAAS backed off its $1.9-million demand and hammered out a deal with the city.

 

The city and FAAS are also talking about ways to fund a new animal shelter.

In an interview, Lipp downplayed the impact of Baglietto’s departure, but acknowledged that the fight with the city subsided. “To be honest, it’s hard to say if Nancy leaving changed anything,” Lipp said. “This is a continuing process. It was a difficult process. It takes time, but certainly when you bring new people into a negotiation process, it changes things,” he added. “I just sought to rebuild the proposal. Nancy did phenomenal work, and I don’t think we would have gotten to the point without her.”

The deal approved by the Alameda City Council on June 6 continues the current operations of the animal shelter and, in total, funds nine full-time and five part-time employees and $45,000 in capital improvements. Also included is a one-time $75,000 payment by the city to help FAAS’ finances through the end of the current fiscal year. The city will also match $25,000 of fundraising proceeds that FAAS receives.

But the deal also comes with strings attached. As part of the agreement, additional oversight will be placed on FAAS. The nonprofit’s board of directors will be required to adhere to open government rules. “Because there is such a major contribution of public funds,” Keimach said, “we thought it is critical that the Brown Act, the Sunshine Ordinance, and everything that we have to have for open meetings that are public and transparent always be reflected in the operation of the FAAS board.”

The city will also require FAAS to submit quarterly audits of its books and within the next two years, said Keimach, invite the American Humane Society to evaluate the shelter before beginning talks for extending an option in the contract for another two years.

With funding in place, the next move by the city and FAAS is to identify how they can fund the construction of a new animal shelter. The building that houses Alameda’s animal shelter on Fortmann Avenue has long been ill-equipped to care for dog, cats, and other animals in search of new forever families. A leaky roof was repaired last winter, and the cinder block cages harken back to a time when such facilities were viewed as dog pounds.

Councilmember Jim Oddie lauded FAAS’ continued work and its sterling 95 percent release rate, but added that “the one part that is missing is a state-of-the-art building.” During the June 6 council meeting, Oddie suggested the city study whether some type of facilities bond might be placed on the November 2018 ballot. Councilmember Frank Matarrese concurred. Earlier this year, Councilmember Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft broached the idea. And Mayor Trish Spencer said in an interview that she would be supportive of such a bond measure, but also voiced concern over whether it could be stymied by other potential tax-raising ballot measures. According to Lipp, the total cost of new facility could be as high as $15 million. “That’s a lot of money for one nonprofit to raise on its own,” he said.

“We all recognize the current facility is not a sustainable building. It’s very antiquated,” Lipp added of the nearly 30-year-old building. “It doesn’t meet the standard of care anymore. Obviously, the idea of a bond measure is something we’re all interested in.”

 

Published online on July 10, 2017 at 8:00 AM

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