Nine members of the current 13 on the Corinne T. Smith Animal Shelter Board of Directors convened at a special called meeting at the Adams Street Community Center Wednesday night, and voted to send certified letters asking for the resignations of the four members not in attendance.
By a vote of 8-1, the board members present asked for the resignations of
Debra Dixon, board president, as well as Bob Dixon, Patricia Caudell and Kevin Kitchens. If those resignations are not tendered, the remainder of the board will take steps to remove the four — which requires a majority vote of the board — at a future meeting.
Board vice president Sherry Howry and fellow members Stephen and Veronica Finch, Allan and Betty Cass, John Morris, Anna Day and, via Skype, Howry’s husband, Bill, voted in favor. Leona Cleveland, a recent addition to the board, voted against the measure as she wanted the letters to be served by an official.
Moments later, the board members present voted unanimously to serve Debra Dixon with a letter demanding the return of all Corinne T. Smith Animal Shelter items in her possession to the property. Dixon, who took over as board president Dec. 16, was also removed by unanimous vote of the nine members as a signatory on all CTSAC bank accounts.
Financial worksheets since Dixon assumed the role of president were presented by interim treasurer Betty Cass to the board members and the two dozen-plus citizens in attendance.
Among the most alarming numbers — which the board stated are still a work in progress — from December 2019, January 2020 and February 2020 include the petty cash budget, which was to contain no more than $50, appeared on the balance as a loss of $2,414; money is shown on the balance as being paid for conducting heart-worm tests, though the CTSAC does not charge for those; the current balance stands in the neighborhood of $375,000, down from $450,000 in November 2019; uncategorized expenses totaling $20,000; veterinarian bills for the last three months stand at $32,000, more than what's normally owed in a full year and $6,600 needs to be paid immediately; and two categories for salary and wages exist, one totaling $5,000 with the other in excess of $68,000 due to heavy amounts of overtime hours.
“Before everybody goes crazy there could be a lot of miscatergorizations there,” said Minessa Mesic, who is assisting the board in attempting to resolve its financial situation. “The way QuickBooks works, when it posts payroll checks if that's not working properly these numbers could be deceiving. It may not be quite as bad as what it looks, but we could find out it really is as bad as it looks.”
Cass stated, “There are a lot of records missing and we know that they've been either taken or destroyed, just to make life harder on us. There was no reason for (Dixon) to take bank statements, cash receipts, even cash recipients that have been deposited, so there's no proof we had anything in the cash bag except for some quarters.”
Regarding the vet bills, Cass stated all animals were taken in for treatment regardless of injury or illness, when many were treated in-house in the past.
Overall, Howry stated the CTSAC is currently $87,000 in the negative and the decision to not hold the traditional Canines, Cats and Cabernet fundraiser in 2019 prevented $30,000-$40,000 of donations from coming in that could have helped the current situation drastically.
The board tabled any action on the financial status as members continue to delve through the numbers. Members stated part of the cause of the discrepancies is money was not divided into respective subcategories, but submitted in lump sums.
Another issue of concern mentioned by the board members on hand was a lack of regard toward the organization's mission statement, core values and bylaws.
“Our core values state humane treatment of all animals, compassion in every decision and interaction, fiscal responsibility and accountability, honesty and integrity and recognition of staff and volunteers as a vital resource — and that has not happened,” Stephen Finch said. “We've deviated from that the last few months and our goal is to get back to this. There's so many things that have happened within the last three months that make our heads spin. We don't know what's going on.”
The rumor that shelter director Butch Lawson was terminated last week was confirmed by the board members in attendance. However, a board majority was supposedly required for the termination, according to Finch, and at most six members approved the termination — the Dixons, Caudell, Kitchens and Larry Eason and Peggy Eason. The Easons have since resigned their positions on the board.
“None of us were aware (of the decision) that our director was fired,” Stephen Finch said. “We don't know as to why. We don't have the reasons. What we know is when they lost the majority of the votes, he was let go. There are a lot of things missing, financials missing, legal paperwork missing where they just opened up filing cabinets and took that with them.”
“And we have that on camera,” Veronica Finch said. “We also know (Dixon) backed up her pickup and loaded up all the wet cat food we had in storage before she left, and we have that on camera as well.”
Neither Dixon nor Lawson have responded to messages from the Bulletin requesting comment.
Going forward, the two board vacancies will likely be appointed by the city council at a future meeting, said Brownwood City Attorney Pat Chesser, who also attended the meeting.
The City of Brownwood owns the land and the building, which was leased to the CTSAC for 40 years back in 2008. If there's a breach in the agreement, the city can terminate the arrangement, which the board intends to avoid. Chesser stated the city is in approval of the measures the board members in attendance are attempting to take to rectify the situation.
“We're trying very hard to come in compliance with state-mandated laws that we're not following and that is a violation of our contract with the City of Brownwood,” Howry said. “When people start saying 'oh they're going to kill dogs, how can they do this? Debra wasn't going to kill dogs'. What they need to understand is we are struggling to meet state-mandated quality of care regulations. If we don't do that, we are in violation and we can't have that contract terminated. A lot of people don't realize that.”
In other news during the meeting, the board reported that with the assistance of Austin-based American Pets Alive, the number of pets at the shelter as of Tuesday night was 118 — 86 dogs and 32 cats. Stephen Finch stated the city would like the number of animals in the shelter to max out at 75. The current number will decrease further this week as APA will be taking all newly-born kittens, puppies and their mothers with them when they return to Austin.
APA also offered to train future volunteers and employees of the shelter, even offering to pay for their accommodations during their stay in Austin.
The board also voted to create a committee, which will be led by Stephen Finch and John Morris, that will focus on facility improvements. Finch and Morris will likely be adding volunteers to the committee, although volunteers had been encouraged to stay away from the shelter in recent weeks.
“As much as the public has seen with all that is going around, y'all didn't need to deal with that,” Stephen Finch said. “This is all adult created by people running the board and it's up to us to iron it out. We're trying to fix that. The past couple of weeks I've been telling people we don't want you in the crossfire. But we need help.”
Lowering the number of animals in the shelter will increase the likelihood of the significant renovations occurring.
“The city has mandated 75 (animals), but it's going to have to go down lower than that for us to use the facility as it was designed,” Stephen Finch said.
Despite all the self-admitted recent drama, board members in attendance reported donations continue to pour into the center. Cleveland stated Home Depot gift cards as the donation the center currently needs most to aid with the proposed upgrades.