Update – Hi-Tor Animal Shelter Board confirmed that recently hired executive director Westley Artope did not have his contract renewed this week. He was under a 90-day probationary period as a new hire.
BY CHERYL SLAVIN
The Board of Directors of the Hi Tor Animal Care Center held its first open Board Meeting of the year on February 19. Portions of the meeting videotaped by a member of the public were posted on Youtube. The segments depict statements by Board President Lizanne Fiorentino addressing a number of issues facing the Board as well as comments, questions and criticisms raised by a number of audience participants.
Fiorentino explained that a new Board has been in place since January 1, and that the open meeting was to be the first of four throughout the year in an effort to promote greater transparency and communication between the Board and the public. She notes that this is the first time in Hi Tor’s history that any Board has made such an effort. She admitted during the meeting that over the past few years Hi Tor has suffered from mismanagement both at the Board and at the staff level, but that the new Board is committed to assessing the situation and making whatever changes were necessary to remedy it.
Fiorentino outlined problems with communication, fundraising and record keeping. She also alleged that many previous Board members did not do the work required of them, leaving many tasks undone. She has only been involved with the Hi Tor Board for a year, but has already made it clear to her colleagues that if they cannot make the time or work commitment required, then they should step down so that others can step up to the task.
Fiorentino addressed an incident during which three stray cats that tested positive for either FIV or leukemia were euthanized before a separate rescue organization, “Care About the Strays,” could take them in. She apologized to all for the sequence of events that led to the cats’ deaths taking full responsibility as President for the situation. She further assured the public that a new four person protocol was now in place to prevent this from happening again. A representative for Care About the Strays later made a statement condemning what happened at the shelter and expressing reservation about a future relationship with Hi Tor, but stopped short of saying that she wouldn’t continue to work with Hi Tor.
As part of list of achievements and on-going projects at Hi Tor, Fiorentino stated that in the past year the shelter has opened a new outdoor patio for cats, launched its volunteer manual, increased its social media visibility and conducted several successful fundraisers. She admitted, however, that she did not have the exact accounting for the fundraisers available to give the public, a statement that elicited a great deal of criticism from the audience. She then repeated that among other things the Board needed to improve its book keeping and internal communications.
In addition to questioning Fiorentino about money management, audience members raised issues about the treatment of volunteers by staff, the difficulty of applying for a Board position and the lack of communication between the Board and the public. Fiorentino responded by requesting that as this is a new Board, the public judge it on its actions going forward. She stated she has made her email and phone number available and was open to suggestions as to how to improve communication.
Members of the public interested in applying for Board positions can submit resumes to the Board. Future Board applicants will be assessed not only on their commitment to animals, but on their willingness to work and on the skills they can bring to Hi Tor. Fiorentino later clarified to the Rockland County Times that the Board is still working on an appropriate procedure with regard to harassment complaints by volunteers. Staff complaints will now be handled by a designated Board liaison.
Furthermore, the Hi Tor Board now has a strategic plan in place, and recently held a two day development workshop during which they examined every aspect of the operation in order to identify problem areas and develop solutions. Fiorentino stressed that the Board is committed to changing whatever needs to be changed, regardless of past practices. But she also stressed that it will be a long process, and may not please everyone.
A segment of critics have become vocal on Facebook and do not appear to accept Fiorentino’s explanations or pleas for patience. They assert that the Board is at best inept, and at worst corrupt, citing the failure to adequately fundraise or keep the books. Critics have also been vocal recently on WRCR’s morning show. Fiorentino counters that Hi Tor must remain true to its mission, but that it also must be run in an appropriately business like manner.