Article published Oct 15, 2007
Candidates sound off on animal shelter
By RICHARD ECKE
Tribune Staff Writer
A city takeover of the animal shelter and animal control services from the Humane Society of Cascade County earlier this year has sparked controversy.
Candidates for mayor and city commissioner offer their views below on whether the city should retain control of the shelter and animal control officers, or whether an outside group should oversee animal control services in Great Falls.
The city election takes place Nov. 6. The Tribune is running the candidates' answers to questions each Monday until the election. Additional answers to questions will be posted online.
Here is the Tribune's question of the week for city candidates.
City government recently took over the animal shelter and animal control services from the Humane Society of Cascade County on a temporary basis. Should the city retain permanent control, or should some other group run the shelter and/or perform animal control services?
Dona Stebbins: Animal control is the responsibility of the city and we should continue to be responsible for seeing it is carried out in an even-handed and professional manner. Shelter management should be the responsibility of an animal-centered nonprofit, which actively raises funds to benefit animals, and does outreach and education on the importance of spay/neuter, positive training and animal health.
During a recent work session at the shelter, I was impressed with the changes made since July 5. The shelter is cleaner by far and many necessary procedures have been put into place. The staff is helpful, friendly, knowledgeable and undergoing training in animal welfare and shelter management. There is no doubt a new shelter is necessary to maintain animal and community health in Great Falls and Cascade County, and as options become open to us, we will explore them and do what is best for all citizens of Great Falls (two—legged and four-legged.)
Susan Kahn: The city failed to effectively manage HSCC's contract, and then seized the animal shelter without long- or short-term goals spelled out. Proper oversight would have prevented this ill-planned, drastic action. The city spoiled the contract renewal with the police chief reviewing bids, including his. Failing a compromise to, in effect, overthrow the HSCC board and citing a mound of complaints, the city handed the shelter over to the police, the high bidder by $330,000. Who was monitoring this growing stack of complaints and why no corrective action during the performance period? Information is not presently available to the public as to when the HSCC was doing the job. Now it appears the city's concern is shelter appearance and revenue more than saving animals' lives. As a pet owner myself, I do not want government euthanizing our pets. Get the job back to an animal care organization.
Larry H. Steele: No, the city should not retain permanent control of the animal shelter. The city should have a good working relationship with the animal control services so that it can effectively create or change city ordinances.
Ed McKnight: City commissioners should contract animal control services by following the bidding process according to current laws, and the city manager should follow the law. In the spirit of open government, all financial matters and plans for current operations must be made available for public inspection. A public tracking system to monitor compliance with the provisions of any contract should be implemented, but more importantly, taxpayers should vote on any new city service requiring additional spending of taxpayer dollars.
Stuart Lewin: The animal shelter and its services are essential. City management is costly because city employees have full benefit packages. Volunteers have recently shown themselves to be unreliable. Sometimes they are great and sometimes less so. Yet, I fear a lack of compassion and lack of commitment to save lives rather than doing what is most expedient, now that the volunteers are gone. If those who have it in their hearts to solve this problem come forward, I would listen and be willing to try what would best reduce costs and provide compassionate services. Until then, the city has no choice but to shoulder the responsibility and take care of the matter.
Bill Bronson: The city should not retain permanent control. The city should turn over operations to a well-organized, nonprofit organization. As a commissioner, I would like to see the shelter conduct operations in accordance with the recommendations offered in the "Staton Report" recently provided to the city and the Great Falls Police Department; I understand some of those recommendations are already being carried out. I am also hopeful that fundraising will be completed soon for a new animal shelter, as the current facility is inadequate to provide humane treatment of animals.
Mary Jolley: The city took over the animal shelter after asking for proposals, then passing the Humane Society proposal to the Police Department, the only other bidder, to critique. At a city agenda meeting, the mayor said, "We'll tell the whole Humane Society board to resign." Our then-clerk said, "You can't do that. It's a private nonprofit." Next, Commissioner Jovick-Kuntz said, "We'll just fire them all." Our clerk again said, "You can't do that. It's a private nonprofit." "Friends of the Mayor" were not ready yet to take over. Adequately fund the shelter and give it back to the Humane Society and apologize for the shabby treatment they received.
Diane Jovick-Kuntz: After a recent tour of the animal shelter, many needed changes have occurred. The facility has been cleaned and painted. A new director has been hired and staff has received needed training. Animal information will be computerized, making it easier to track animals. A volunteer program is in the planning stages. I would like to see a private entity step up and take over all phases of the operation except enforcement. It is the city's responsibility to make sure our ordinances are being enforced.
Elna Hensley: I don't believe the city has any desire to operate the shelter or to provide animal control services on a long-term basis. These are services that are important to our community and the city does have an obligation to see that they are provided in a manner that meets the needs of our citizens and provides safe and humane treatment of the animals. Hopefully, the Humane Society of Cascade Country or another organization will be willing and able to contract with the city to operate the shelter and animal control services. I am confident that the city will be working toward achieving this goal as soon as possible.
MICHAEL WINTERS: Perhaps it would be in the best interests of the community and animals at large if a well-qualified and professional organization assumed the animal control services and management of the animal shelter. This would free more officers to perform police duties and take some pressure off the Police Department. The city should retain oversight authority.