The mayor said last week it is unlikely the city will renew its contract with ASPCI if all of its requests are not met.
The city has asked ASPCI for three specific things: They wanted a copy of the operating procedures used at the animal shelter; they want the organization to conduct an annual audit; they want ASPCI to open all its meetings to the public.
There has been some progress in negotiations. A copy of the operating procedures has been provided. The shelter balked at paying for an audit, but agreed to it if the costs would be split among all of its clients.
The board agreed to open one meeting per quarter to the public, but not all of them.
Funderburg said that’s not acceptable, and he’s right. Opening only an occasional meeting to the public would be almost meaningless.
Last week, when the shelter presented a proposed service renewal contract to Riverside and Pell City that opened a new rift. It would bar anyone with the cities from undertaking “to question, direct, or publicly comment on the actions and decisions of ASPCI.”
The ASPCI has been operating since 2002. The board has never had an audit. According to its records, ASPCI spend almost a half million dollars on operations last year. Elected officials would like to know that taxpayers are getting the value they deserve for their funds.
The shelter is a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization, and is not legally required by law to open its board meetings to the public, but the board did so for most of the organization’s existence.
That seems reasonable and proper.
The shelter exists to serve the public. It covers all of the municipalities in St. Clair County, and the city of Lincoln in Talladega County.
Most of its funding comes from contracts with those municipalities and from fundraising from the public. It also brings in some revenue from operations.
It operates in a building and on property owned by the city of Pell City, and in addition to paying a per capita fee for services, the city provides gasoline, water and pest control at the shelter facility.
ASPCI takes the position the animal shelter provides services like any other city contractor, and it should not be required to be more transparent than any other business. Officials have countered that the shelter is a quasi-governmental agency that needs to be more open than other service providers.
The questions aren’t about the services provided. It’s about being open and accountable to the public and to the municipalities served. The ASPCI has meant a lot to the area, and its annual Fur Ball and Paws in the Park fundraising events have done a lot to help raise awareness of animal control issues, as well as helping to place pets in loving homes.
According to its tax filings, the shelter has even taken the extra step of offering free pet food to families receiving public assistance for food. That helps people keep their pets through difficult times, and it means fewer animals are surrendered to the shelter. That’s a win-win for everyone.
It’s likely that other municipalities that use the shelter’s services are also watching to see how the issue plays out in Pell City before agreeing to a new contract with the ASPCI board.
We think Funderburg and the Pell City council members are right to insist on transparency from the ASPCI. We hope their board members come to see it the same way.