After last week’s town hall meeting, it occurred to me that it might be useful to provide a reference guide to the cast of this particular drama. Even some of the participants don’t have a clear grasp of who’s who. Let me introduce you to the major players.
Montgomery County is governed by a small group of elected County Commissioners: Meador, Noack, Riley, and Clark. Clark and Riley are the most recently elected, and their terms began in January of this year. The fifth member of this group is Judge Doyal, who primarily serves as tiebreaker when needed. These men have the responsibility of handling the very large budget for the entire county: roads, bridges, agencies, employees…and the animal shelter. Commissioner Jim Clark is directly responsible for handling all issues related to the animal shelter.
For the sake of fairness and clarity, neither Clark nor Riley were in office when the questionable deal that allowed the sale of Care Corp was made. Noack and Meador were. However, Commissioner Clark has wholeheartedly embraced the Care Corp cause.
Care Corp was originally formed by Tim and Amy Holifield as an instrument for the privatization of the shelter management. Again, for the sake of clarity and full disclosure, I supported their original bid for privatization. I believed that privatization would provide some much needed flexibility to the shelter management that simply cannot exist under direct county control. I actually still believe that privatization can be a good choice, but experience has proven that effective privatization demands complete transparency, which is not contractually required of Care Corp. I cannot and will not support what Care Corp has become.
In December 2014, Tim Holifield met with the Commissioners and convinced them to authorize revisions to the existing contract. These revisions did a couple of very dangerous things. Originally, there was a provision which would invalidate the contract between Care Corp and Montgomery County in the event that Care Corp were to be sold. That provision is gone. As I understand it, there is nothing to prevent the current owners from selling Care Corp to anyone they choose. The term of the contract has also been extended far past its original expiration date. Both of those decisions were made in a rushed fashion without proper due diligence from the commissioners. Various commissioners have admitted to signing the revised contract without reading it. They also neglected their obligation to perform due diligence as regards the purchasers of Care Corp.
Care Corp’s New Owner:
Dr. Aubrey Ross purchased Care Corp from the Holifields, effective January 1, 2015. Tim Holifield, the seller, told me himself that Dr. Ross has seven years of experience working in shelters. I have been given to understand that the commissioners were told the same thing. However, in a letter dated January 26th, 2015, in which he confirms his purchase of Care Corp, Dr. Ross says only “I have considerable shelter veterinary experience.” In the recent town hall meeting, concerned volunteers asked Dr. Ross what experience his career included. He did not answer. Research by various volunteers seems to indicate that he worked for Banfield (the vet clinic chain found in Petsmarts) for about 18 months, and that he may or may not have done some work at a shelter in Las Vegas prior to coming to Montgomery County. He worked as a contract vet at MCAS for a few months prior to purchasing Care Corp.
Dr. Ross is also the partner of Dr. Diarra Blue in a venture known as Animalscopic. Apparently their original plan was to open a private practice, but when their third partner pulled out, their financing fell through. That did not stop them from setting up a nifty online presence with a photo of an abandoned bank building as their hypothetical clinic.
Dr. Blue presented himself in the town hall meeting as “Dr. Ross’s partner.” We remain unclear as to whether that partnership includes Care Corp. Dr. Blue did answer audience questions about his prior veterinary experience. He worked for Banfield as well, and claims six years of professional practice.
Neither of them appears to have any management experience whatsoever.
In the five months since they purchased Care Corp, employee turnover has been tremendous. Volunteers have been insulted, belittled, demeaned, even questioned about their motives and loyalties. Volunteers and adopters have expressed unhappiness with changes in the shelter’s atmosphere and customer service. The doctors severed their relationship with the Society, in spite of the vast amount of vet bills being paid by the Society, with the result that the availability of vet care has been greatly reduced. Their selected replacement nonprofit, while a fine organization in itself, does not have deep enough pockets to cover the $100,000 or more year in vet bills that the Society had been paying.
The Society is a 501c3 nonprofit. It was formed specifically to serve as the dedicated nonprofit in support of MCAS, because Care Corp’s for profit business model severely hampers its ability to accept donations. The Society is a small group of board members. It has no formal membership outside of those seven board members. For the first three years of their existence, their purpose was to raise funds, hold offsite adoption events, donate equipment and medication, and pay vet bills for the animals in MCAS custody. This has undergone a necessary change since Drs. Ross and Blue chose to end the working relationship between the shelter and the Society. The Society has adjusted its model to function as a more traditional rescue and will no doubt undergo further evolution.
The Volunteer Community
The volunteer community is by far the largest group in the mix. There are literally hundreds of volunteers in Montgomery County. Some foster for Care Corp, some volunteer for rescues, some help out with Society events, some work independently to raise funds, collect donations, transport animals, or perform other needed services in the animal welfare community. Any individual volunteer may well contribute time and effort to multiple organizations and events. We are a huge, amorphous, disparate, loud, passionate group, with members from every corner of society. We are a powerful voice affiliated to no one particular organization. Our allegiance lies with the animals, and their wellbeing unites us.
Just at this moment, the vast majority of the volunteer community is united over an additional issue: the current management of MCAS. We are not happy with Care Corp. We are not happy with the backdoor sale, and we are not happy with the ongoing lack of real response to our concerns by the Commissioners.
One more thing about the volunteer community…we don’t give up.