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by No Kill Joe
Wednesday, Dec. 02, 2009 at 12:28 AM
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa appointed Ed Boks as the Director of Animal Services even though Boks had been fired from his two previous jobs for poor performance. After many, many mistakes and costly lawsuits the Mayor continued to stand by his appointment. Ultimately City Council made a motion of "no confidence" in Ed Boks' leadership in 2009 and demanded that he be fired. Finally Boks was forced to resign. Why did the Mayor appoint Ed Boks, a man with no college education and a bad track record? It seems a local billionaire offered Villaraigosa ,000,000 if he would hire Boks, and the Mayor accepted.
(Left to right - Ed Boks, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Dr. Gary Michelson)
Mayor Villaraigosa wanted the animal community's vote in the 2005 Mayoral election. At their CHULA convention he promised if elected he would fire the current Director and appoint a "No Kill" candidate to save the city's animals. "No Kill" means that an animal will only be killed if it is dying or is extremely aggressive, not because of lack of space. Animal lovers rejoiced at his promise, donated to his campaign and voted Villaraigosa into the Mayoral office.
After Villaraigosa was elected the animal community asked him to keep his campaign promise and hire a "No Kill" director. After a couple of months the Mayor met with key players in the animal community. He asked them whom they thought would make a good Director. A few names were thrown about though none of the names was "Ed Boks."
During this time local billionaire Dr. Gary Michelson became involved. Orthopedic surgeon Michelson is known for winning a 1.3 billion dollar lawsuit settlement against Medtronic over a patent dispute. He started the Found Animals Foundation after the settlement to help reduce pet overpopulation. Forbes magazine refers to Michelson as the "animal nut." He is locally known for letting his unneutered dog roam the streets, racking up multiple dog off-leash tickets and walking around LA in tank tops to show off his veiny biceps.
Michelson met with local animal activists in mid 2005 at his home. Besides meeting with moderate activists Michelson also met with militant activists. Two such militant activists were Jerry Vlasak, the Press Officer for the Animal Liberation Front and Pam Ferdin, the head of Animal Defense League. ADL had been attacking the City for years. The local ALF cell targeted the previous Directors and Mayor with death threats, smoke bombs, graffiti and other acts of vandalism.
Michelson wanted to help make Los Angeles a "No Kill" city. He'd heard of Ed Boks in a magazine when Boks was working in New York. He asked local animal activists how much money he'd have to give the Mayor to make him appoint Ed Boks. They told him he'd need to offer the Mayor at least ,000,000.
Michelson set up an appointment with the Mayor and Deputy Mayor Jimmy Blackman. Michelson asked Villaraigosa to appoint Ed Boks. The Mayor and his aides had never heard of Ed Boks. Then Michelson offered him ,000,000 if he would appoint Boks. Without thoroughly checking out Boks' background the Mayor agreed. Even after many others stated that Boks had a murky past based on faked numbers, had no college education, was just sued for racial discrimination and was fired from his previous two positions, the Mayor officially appointed Boks January 3, 2006.
Within a few months the complaints began. Boks was overcrowding cages to lower his euthanasia rate on paper. Animals were dying of disease or cage fights in record numbers. Boks gave away animals for free to improve his numbers which caused already limited revenue to plummet. He tried to hold a "Hooters for Neuters" bikini contest and was forced by women's groups to cancel the event. He started other programs with no City approvals and had to terminate them. He made a derogatory comment about Jewish people in a press release. Boks started controversy with his blogs viciously attacking any and all detractors. His first annual report ultimately showed that he was the first Director in over 20 years that had not reduced the euthanasia rate. Villaraigosa ignored all complaints and stood by his appointment Ed Boks.
Boks' second year he simply refused the animals most likely to be euthanized in order to improve his numbers on paper. The public complained and Boks denied his actions. City Council was forced to step in and reprimanded Boks time and time again. Boks continued to make huge public blunders. He started the "Pitbull Academy" without City approval pairing ex-prison inmates with Pitbull dogs for training in the City shelters. That program was instantly terminated for liability reasons. Finally Boks was sued for sexual harassment by an ex-employee and volunteer in 2007. She accused Boks of "inappropriately touching, grabbing, feeling, hugging, holding Plaintiff, showing up at Plaintiff's home unannounced, uninvited, and drunk, after being told by Plaintiff not to come, among other things." Villaraigosa still stood by his appointment Ed Boks.
Boks performance continued to plummet in his third year. Intakes increased as did euthanasia. The employees complained that three times as many animals were dying from illness and injury in their cages from overcrowding. Employees even reported Boks for "animal cruelty." The Union and almost every employee signed a letter of "no confidence" in Boks. Villaraigosa ignored their letter so they took it publicly to City Council. Boks told Villaraigosa that the complaining employees were just "lazy." Boks blamed his failure on the employees refusal to follow his commands. The Mayor was not pleased that anyone would question his appointment publicly. His office called the complaining employees "lazy" "whiners" who "don't want to work." Villaraigosa still stood by his appointment Ed Boks.
Finally, after an expensive settlement in Boks' sexual harassment lawsuit the City Council made a motion of "no confidence" in Ed Boks. The councilmembers berated Boks over and over for his poor performance and major public fiascos. A few days later Boks was found guilty by a judge in a racial discrimination lawsuit from an African American. Boks fired an experienced African American and hired his white friend who had no experience but did have a criminal record. Finally, the Mayor forced Boks to resign. He gave him two months of paid leave as a golden handshake. Boks even negotiated a letter from the Mayor "thanking" him for his service.
Soon after settlement of the sexual harassment and racial discrimination lawsuits another lawsuit settlement became public. Dr. Gary Michelson was sued by the ex-Director of his Found Animals Foundation for fraud and defamation. A statement in that lawsuit was physical proof of Michelson's and Villaraigosa's illegal agreement to hire Boks in exchange for ,000,000. Case Number: SC095697, David T. Loftus VS. Gary Karlin Michelson, M.D. Et. Al., Filing Date: 10/18/2007, Case Type: Contractural Fraud (General Jurisdiction), Status: Dismissed. This lawsuit was settled very quickly when this pay to play information came to light. This is from a sworn statement in that lawsuit.
"Michelson told Plaintiff that he had agreed to fund seven spay and neuter clinics and donate a million dollars to the city of Los Angeles as incentive for Ed Boks, a proponent of the "nokill" policy, to head the department of animal control. Plaintiff advised Michelson that a million dollars would not be enough money. Other animal welfare advocates agreed, and Michelson promised to donate ,000 ,000 to implement a "nokill" policy in LA. Michelson promised city officials, including mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Deputy Mayor Jimmy Blackman, that if Ed Boks were to be hired as head of the department of animal control, he would donate ,000,000 to the department and millions more to animal welfare agencies and animal rescue groups."
Employees and animal advocates who worked for and spoke with Michelson admitted that Michelson told others that he "paid" the Mayor to appoint Ed Boks. Michelson also told others that he offered to "make sure" Villaraigosa became Governor if he "followed" Michelson's wishes if he ran for Governor. People who worked for the City stated that Villaraigosa did agree to accept the money. In fact the Mayor grew impatient that Michelson was not giving the money fast enough. The Mayor's office even went so far as to state in writing that Michelson was "cheap," and a "flake," when the money didn't come in fast enough.
This financial deal between Michelson and the Mayor was actually made public by the Animal Liberation Front in early 2006. From their website "the ONLY reason Boks was hired by Villariagosa is because billionaire Gary Michelson offered the Mayor a large contribution to his campaign--pay to play. ADL-LA knows this to be true because two board members (Jerry Vlasak, Pam Ferdin) were witnesses to Michelson's push for Boks to be General Manager of LAAS and were also told about secret meetings he had with the Mayor's office. ADL-LA and others begged Michelson to realize that by his pressing for Boks to be hired, he would be indirectly killing thousands of animals, but Michelson wouldn't listen to anyone but his own ego and Villaraigosa was more then (sic) happy to enter into a pay to play with Michelson since all the Mayor cares about is money to fund his political career." Because it was posted in the ALF website, no one believed it.
Michelson's deal was also mentioned in an LA Weekly interview December 22, 2005, "A Billionaire's Bark." "A series of serendipitous events that began just months ago put Michelson in touch with Boks and then Villaraigosa, helped lead to Boks’ hiring here and made Michelson a key player in the latest effort to overhaul the way the city handles wanted and unwanted pets." "Mid-October (2006) began a period of intense activity. Villaraigosa was in contact with Boks and with Michelson."
February 2006 another article in LA Weekly entitled "Did Villaraigosa hire Ed Boks to run Animal Services without checking his background?" delved further into the dirty deal. Union President Julie Butcher who represents LAAS workers had this to say, "[SEIU] continues to advocate the broadest and most open, fair process for hiring," says Butcher. "Anything else is a de facto slap in the face to every worker within the organization; in the absence of an equitable promotional scheme, these decisions become - or appear to become - ones based on back-scratching, name-dropping, and glad-handing - and lord knows there's already way too much of that in local government."
Currently Los Angeles is in need of yet another Director for Animal Services. The Mayor has supposedly hired a head hunting company to lead the search. In October the Mayor sent out a questionnaire on SurveyMonkey to "stakeholders" in the animal community. These "stakeholders" included local bloggers, activists who dislike the Mayor, animal rescuers and others. The survey asked respondents such easy questions as "should the Director have" the "ability to analyze," "be objective," "have interpersonal skills," "have a vision," "care about animals," "have integrity" and "have experience." Some worry that this "search" is actually just to appease the locals and make the search appear to be unbiased and objective. Some say the Mayor's already sold the position to the highest bidder.
Los Angeles is closely watching the Mayor in this selection process. Whom will he appoint next? A friend of a benefactor or someone actually qualified for the job? In the meantime, if anyone knows of a good candidate for the position, instruct them to send their resume to Steve.Rivera@lacity.org who is heading the search. It may be a waste of time but then again you never know.
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