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L.A. Too Confidential: Hahn and Stuckey in a Sticky Situation

by Charlotte Laws, Ph.D. Monday, Oct. 11, 2004 at 7:44 AM

Animal advocates continue to protest Los Angeles Mayor Hahn's appointment of Guerdon H. Stuckey as the General Manager of Animal Services and the city's lack of commitment to the no-kill animal shelter goal.

L.A. Too Confidentia...
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On the overcast morning of October 4, 2004, Mayor Hahn was a "no show" at the groundbreaking ceremony for the North Central Animal Shelter in Los Angeles. Had he been alerted in advance to the presence of agitated animal rights advocates? His office declines to comment.

Twenty vociferous and determined activists from Animal Defense League, L.A. (ADL-L.A.) stood behind a chain link fence with graphic, handmade signs and thoroughly disrupted the event. Their chants and condemnations focused on what they believed to be the city bureaucrats' disregard for the 600-1000 dogs and cats who are killed in city's six shelters each week and Mayor Hahn's recent appointment of Guerdon H. Stuckey for the General Manager of Animal Services.

Stuckey, who currently works as the director of neighborhood and community services in Rockville, Maryland, has no experience with animals, and in fact, has no companion animals of his own.

In a telephone interview, Mr. Stuckey seemed enthusiastic about taking on the challenge and resolute about trying to improve the dismal situation in Los Angeles. He also pledged that when he starts his new post on November 15th, he will meet with local citizens, including members of the Animal Defense League, and listen to their suggestions.

Many in the animal community are skeptical of this appointment. First, Mayor Hahn disregarded the choice made by a coalition of animal welfare / rights representatives, who had independently interviewed a number of the candidates in June, and secretly offered their recommendation. They did not publicize their selection to give the Mayor the opportunity to "save face." But, in fact, not one of their top three choices was granted an interview with Hahn, and it is unclear as to whether he even reviewed their applications.

In addition, the Mayor relied upon a committee chaired by Madeline Bernstein, who serves as the president of L.A.'s Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), to conduct the candidate search. Many in the animal welfare movement impugn Bernstein's sincerity, charging that she does not embrace an end to the killing of shelter animals.

Even Linda Gordon, who works for the City of Los Angeles as the liaison to the Bureau of Engineering for the animal facilities bond program, admits, "Madeline does not want to assist the city with becoming a no-kill shelter city. She is too busy with other things."

Pamelyn Ferdin, the head of ADL-L.A. charges, "Madeline Bernstein's SPCA is in direct competition with city shelters. There is a conflict of interest. Bernstein wants to make sure she has a flow of adoptable animals at the SPCA, so she will continue to have a job. She refuses to take city animals, even though the SPCA has tons of empty cages. She does nothing while animals are routinely killed at nearby shelters."

Bernstein has refused to return our calls, and when Judy Sims, an employee at Bernstein's office, was asked why the SPCA's Los Angeles facility remains empty, she seemed flustered, "It's because...I can't discuss this. It's just closed."

Closed doors and closed mouths are ubiquitous. It's not that there is necessarily a conspiracy between the SPCA, the City of L.A. and its Department of Animal Services, but complacency, an ostrich-like mentality, and a dodging of accountability are found in phone call after phone call. Where is the Brown Act, the Sunshine Ordinance, California's Proposition 59, or open government when you need it most?

Hahn selected individuals to serve on the Focus Group Committee and the Search Committee in order to assist with the Stuckey decision, but their identities are confidential, a secret that cannot even be disclosed now that the process is complete.

"I can't recall who served on the committees, other than myself and Madeline Bernstein," replied Matt Modrzejewski, a policy analyst with Hahn's office who sat on and oversaw the committees as recently as a few weeks ago.

Finally, activists are infuriated because they say the city of Los Angeles rejected a 0 thousand donation to implement a separate low cost spay/neuter facility for the community at one of the soon-to-be-built animal shelters. In addition, they claim that the spaces allotted for the animals are too small and that there is no plan for humane education and behavioral training. They are convinced that the community rooms the city has set aside at the new shelters will remain empty, except for staff meetings.

Linda Gordon responds that only ,000 was offered with a promise for more later and that the community rooms will be used for public education and pet training, despite what the activists say. In addition, city representatives add that the free money was to provide a second spay/neuter section when one area should be sufficient to take care of all animals.

The battle continues. Hahn has rejected offers by an impartial third party to mediate the situation, perhaps because he is upset by protests at his San Pedro home earlier in the year which disturbed his family and neighbors.

Hahn's office has been contacted on numerous occasions by members of both mainstream and more insurgent animal groups, but he has refused to talk to them.

Michael Bell of Citizens for a Humane Los Angeles says, "We politely asked for an appointment with the Mayor to discuss our plan for a no-kill shelter on several occasions over the past four years, but no one in his office ever got back to us. We have also tried a number of times to make contact with the Mayor through his deputies to discuss the problems that plague our six city shelters as well as provide solutions to those problems, including any misunderstandings he may have about the humane community, to no avail."

The more proactive animal advocates hope to defeat Hahn's bid for re-election in March with continual and boisterous demonstrations at strategic locations around the city.

Ironically, Hahn and the animal advocates claim to have fundamental agreement on the core issue. Both say they want to make Los Angeles a no-kill animal shelter city. On the face of it, one would say there is no reason to disbelieve the Mayor, for why would anyone want to keep killing tens of thousands of healthy dogs and cats each year if it could be avoided?

Yet, comments made by city employee Gordon are puzzling, leading one to question the commitment that the City of Los Angeles has towards its alleged objective.

There has been talk about setting up a nonprofit to aid in a transition to end the animal deaths. When Gordon was asked if she would be willing to assist this nonprofit by crunching a few numbers—something with which she has vast experience--she responded, "No. I can't do that. That would entail a conflict of interest with the city. My employment precludes that sort of thing. I could be fired."

When pressed, she admitted she could work for a nonprofit that sought to combat cancer or AIDS, but not for one with a no-kill animal shelter goal for L.A. in mind. "There would definitely be a conflict of interest with the city," she reiterated. She refused to comment any further.

One might want to brainstorm a bit as to why there might be a conflict of interest. In other words, why might employees for or representatives of the City of Los Angeles be reluctant to forge towards the no-kill goal?

Might the hesitancy--which one would assume to be subconscious rather than malevolent--involve the expensive and shiny new facilities that are being built to the tune of 4 million, which would go unused if animals were no longer homeless? Would the mayor and other local politicians be the target of taxpayer wrath for borrowing money to renovate and construct empty buildings?

Might it involve a loss of jobs for animal control employees if the number of unwanted pets were reduced or eliminated? Might it mean drawing attention to the fact that the city may not have a viable no-kill plan?

Might it relate to a bureaucratic mindset that almost every governmental agency from the beginning of time has had, a mindset that is resistant to change, even for the better? It is easy to become entrenched in "the system" and obey a routine, regardless of how disturbing that routine may be.

Might it be that Mayor Hahn, who not only strives to be re-elected but who genuinely wants to be a good leader and exert the "will of the people," believes that Angelinos care less about the fate of thousands of death-bound dogs and cats than street repairs in their community?

A sampling of the Mayor's Budget Survey, which was recently tabulated by the Neighborhood Councils, concluded that animals were a lower priority than street and sidewalk repairs. Of course, it can be forcefully argued that the form was flawed and did not represent the will of the people.

The survey, which was filled out by members the public, was an attempt to assess budgetary priorities by ranking various issues, such as police services, sidewalk repair, fire services, and public transit, with a number indicating which item was the most important to the respondent, which was the second most important, and so forth.

Unfortunately, "Animal Issues" was listed under the category titled "Safer City" with the description, "Ensure that residents, visitors, and businesses, and visitors of the city of Los Angeles are safe and secure, and receive timely and efficient emergency response services."

What does the safety of people and businesses have to do with the deaths of 30,000 - 50,000 animals per year? The survey was not only misleading, but it completely ignored the Mayor's professed no-kill goal.

There were 34 items on the survey. Preliminary tabulations for a section of the city show that police, fire and street services took the highest honors with traffic control, libraries and recreation as runners-up. "Animal services" had a poor turnout, although the results of the survey are still being discussed and adjusted.

One could argue this reveals that most people do not care about homeless animals because these unfortunate beings are "out of sight, out of mind" and have no connection with financial or "quality of life" concerns for humans. But this is a cynical and hopefully incorrect view.

It is more likely that the results reflect a poorly drafted questionnaire. Respondents probably did not realize that "animal services" meant massive killing. Regardless, the Mayor--who seems anxious to take directives from the people of the city--has less incentive for addressing the homeless animal problem and seriously forging ahead with a no-kill L.A. He no doubt perceives a lack of public interest on this matter.

If Stuckey's appointment is approved by the City Council, it is hoped that he will transform a previously furtive process into one with ample public discourse and that he will be a calming force, uniting both sides with a common solution. Let's hope Stuckey has what it takes. If not, the animals will be the victims, and L.A. will remain stuck in its bureaucratically stagnant ways.

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North Central Animal Shelter

by Charlotte Laws, Ph.D. Monday, Oct. 11, 2004 at 7:44 AM

North Central Animal...
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Protestors drown out voice of Sharon Morris groundbreaking event.

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