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Dispute About City Report Leads to Significant Changes

By Dan McKay
Copyright 2008 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Staff Writer
    City councilors seemed surprised recently when the administration presented a two-page report on plans to improve animal care.
    "This is the report?" two councilors asked during a November meeting, sounding surprised and disappointed.
    But it wasn't— or at least it wasn't the full report.
    The administration's initial four-page report was cut in half at the request of Councilor Sally Mayer. The final document failed to include criticism of the old animal-care leadership team— information the administration had included to bolster its case for hiring a new director.
    In an interview last week, Mayer, who supported the previous leadership, said the parts she objected to were misleading.
    "I said, 'This is insulting,' '' Mayer said. "It was a big spin campaign."
    Ed Adams, the chief operating officer under Mayor Martin Chávez, said the full report was accurate.
    Mayer "wanted (parts) taken out, and if we did that, then she would let the bill go forward to reinstate the money," Adams said Monday.
    The omitted parts, he said, "were inconsistent with her point of view. That doesn't make them wrong."
    Mayer disputes Adams' account. She said she told Adams she wouldn't support the bill based on the earlier report.
    "I would never make an assumption that I can control the rest of the council on anything," Mayer said. "If I had that kind of control over the council, wouldn't I be president?"
Ongoing fight
    The behind-the-scenes bickering was just another twist in the fight over how Albuquerque cares for its homeless pets. The administration shook up Animal Services last year by hiring new leadership and making it a stand-alone department in city government.
    The administration removed Denise Wilcox as associate director for animal care and hired Jeanine Patterson, a registered nurse who opened medical clinics for Intel, as director of the new department.
    John Romero, chairman of the state veterinary board, was promoted to associate director.
    Mayer, the council's leading animal advocate and author of the city's animal ordinance, was a major supporter of Wilcox, who was transferred to the Department of Municipal Development.
    Mayer said the changes were unjustified. She pushed to freeze funding for the department until the administration submitted a report to the council.
    In response, the Animal Welfare Department submitted the four-page report— it was longer with attachments— to council staff, but Mayer said no one but her saw it.
    She talked with Adams, and they went over the report line by line to cut what she objected to.
    Here's a look at some of the omitted sections:
  • The new leadership of the department had filled vacancies, reducing the number of vacant jobs from about a dozen to five.
  • The former management team had left more than $1 million in capital and state grants unspent. The new team was using the money for a roofing project at the West Side shelter and other needs.
  • The new team was making a concerted effort to pinpoint why the health of some animals deteriorated while in the shelters. In a 10-month period, 1,562 dogs and 1,689 domestic cats had been euthanized, even though they appeared to be healthy when they first arrived at the shelters.
  • Veterinary staff had been calling for medical-isolation areas, but the changes hadn't been made until new leadership took over.
    Councilor's rebuttal
        Mayer said those sections of the report were misleading. The previous director of the program had tried filling positions, but the Human Resources Department "was not very cooperative," Mayer said.
        As for unspent money, Mayer said the administration's contention was "not true." The funds, she said, had restrictions attached that made it difficult or impossible to spend the money under the circumstances.
        The sick dogs and cats figure, she said, is also troubling because dogs, in particular, can go crazy from the stress of staying in a kennel for a long time— at no fault of the top managers. Animals might also appear healthy when they come in but have a health problem that's not noticed until later.
        The previous managers, she said, had created isolation areas as well as they could and were working to create permanent space.
        "I was not going to accept on my part" the initial report, Mayer said. "It was just another PR campaign at the expense of some real dedicated employees."
        Adams could have submitted the report if he had really wanted to, she said.
        "I don't have the power to literally not accept the report," Mayer said. "Their decision was to work with me and write one that had the facts we agreed on and no spin."
        The administration, meanwhile, said it simply submitted the report councilors asked for— explaining the leadership change. A councilor wanted changes, so a new report was sent over.
        Some councilors have since seen the full report. Isaac Benton said he heard about the full report, asked for a copy and got one.
        "I hope that ... we work together with the administration from here on out," he said.
        Councilor Michael Cadigan said he wasn't "particularly outraged."
        "It would have been nice to get the full version before, but the abridged version met the minimum requirements of what the council was asking for," he said.