Reformers challenge Anne Arundel SPCA

Year of turmoil leads to election today at board's annual meeting

May 08, 2002|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

The self-described "reform" party wants to wrest control, saying that some officeholders' style of governing keeps too many people in the dark. Those in power dismiss the challengers' complaints, arguing that they're a disgruntled minority.

Throw in charges of a tainted election, calls for term limits and accusations of over-the-line campaign tactics, and it may all sound like hardball national politics.

But the power struggle is playing out at the Anne Arundel County chapter of the SPCA - hampering, some advocates say, the organization's efforts to protect animals.

The simmering conflict is expected to reach a peak at noon today, when the SPCA chapter holds its annual meeting - at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts in Annapolis - and conducts board elections.

"The programs are not as successful and dynamic as they should be," said Ann Katcef, a 10-year SPCA board member who is siding with the reform slate in the debate over the chapter's future.

"Things don't happen fast enough, we need things to move along quickly. We have animals to take care of and we need to be very, very pro-active in our programs," Katcef said.

The dissenters say that the actions of some of the current board members have led to a number of problems within the 2,000-member organization, including the departures of longtime volunteers, withholding information from the entire board and the elimination or deterioration of programs.

Dissatisfied with what it calls a "stagnant" board, a breakaway group of board members-called "Concerned Citizens of the SPCA," has put together its slate of candidates for the eight open seats on the 15-member board.

The move caps a year of turmoil that has made for unpleasant board meetings.

For board member and reform slate supporter Hal Counihan, his first meeting a year ago was an eye-opener. Charges of voting irregularities in the 2001 election for board president had members in a lather.

"It was the most horrendous behavior I have ever seen in a group of adults," said Counihan, a history professor at Anne Arundel Community College. "I came home and told my wife, `You would not believe what I have just witnessed tonight.'"

"People were yelling, there were accusations, people talking over people," he said. "It was just uncivil behavior."

Recently, sniping on the board became so bad that a conflict resolution counselor volunteered to sit in on the meetings.

Counihan said he found it helpful, but not all board members did.

"She stays so neutral you want to smack her," said board Vice President Lou Sullivan Carter, singled out by the reform group as a source of much of the conflict within the SPCA. She says the critics' charges are unfounded.

"We have to work hard, we have a $1 million budget, we're a big corporation," said Carter. "People think we're out there handing dogs across a counter."

Added board President Fred Graul, "Two thirds of the board are in full agreement with the way things are currently being run, and there's a small percentage that aren't."

But the reform slate supporters say the organization is troubled.

They say that the foster care pet program has been diminished and a planned community education program on the humane treatment of animals has not gotten off the ground.

They say they've been denied access to information on spending on a planned, $1.5 million expansion of the organization's shelter on Bay Ridge Avenue in Annapolis, and they complain that the board did not consider more than one contractor's bid on the job.

They say the manager of the shelter has alienated many volunteers and employees-some of whom have quit or been fired.

They say they were not promptly told that an inspection report by the county's animal control office found unsanitary conditions at the SPCA shelter.

The most recent inspection of the shelter - conducted by the county animal control office in January in response to complaints - found animals to be in good condition with access to food and fresh water.

But inspectors also found significant accumulations of dirt on walls, ledges and on the tops of kennel cages that could jeopardize the health of the animals.

Graul said he did report the inspection to the board, and that the problems arose because some maintenance work had been put off at the shelter because of the planned move to the expanded facility, which has been delayed.

Reform slate candidates are calling for SPCA members to be involved in decision-making, for the hiring of an executive director and for an expansion of community-based programs. And they're calling for term limits on the SPCA board.

"I think the basic problem is that you've had some people on the board who've been there way too long," Counihan said. "And they've just become very accustomed to doing things one way."

Carter, who has a 20-year history with the SPCA, and is a former board president, defends the current board's management of the chapter.

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