Privatization Would Be Ultimate Outcome

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Hempstead mulls changes at animal shelter

Gerald Marino is the commissioner of the Town of Hempstead Department of General Services. Under one of the suggestions made by Supervisor Laura Gillen, the animal shelter will be shifted from his department to that of public safety. (Photo by Frank Rizzo)

For animal advocates, change at the Town of Hempstead Animal Shelter (TOHAS) would start at the top. Repeatedly, via their comments at Town of Hempstead Town Board meetings over the past two years, they’ve made it clear that the dismissal of Mike Pastore, the shelter director, is the first step to fix what they view as a troubled facility. The TOHAS is the subject of at least four pending lawsuits.

For Supervisor Laura Gillen, such a decision is not as easy as Pastore’s opponents wish.

“There are protocols I have to follow before I terminate someone,” she told Anton Media Group. “There has to be grounds [for dismissal].”

Pastore is under the protection of the town’s collective bargaining agreement with the Civil Service Employees Union (CSEA).

But there is no doubt that Gillen, elected last November in a stunning upset of incumbent Anthony Santino, wants to make changes at the facility.

Last month, she asked County Comptroller Jack Schnirman to begin a financial audit of TOHAS, and on March 9, she began the task of shaping the future of the shelter with the following actions:

• A request for qualifications (RFQ) for privatization of shelter services. According to a memo that the supervisor sent to councilmembers, “The RFQ seeks qualifications from potential partners to help the town carry out improved shelter services with private/non-profit agencies. As you are aware, we are considering privatization as one approach to address shelter concerns/issues.”

• A request for proposal (RFP) for behaviorist services: Would supplement and/or replace those already provided by a behaviorist working 35 hours per week. It would, according to Gillen, “ensure that the appropriate evaluations and behavioral services are provided to shelter.”

• A RFP for veterinary services: The contracts with New York Vet Specialty Center and Central Veterinary Associates, P.C. to provide off-site services will expire later this year, though Gillen noted they can be terminated beforehand by the town.

• A review of policy and procedures: Gillen’s office is consulting shelter staff “to update policies and procedures to reflect best practices.”

• Installing additional security cameras: Will be added to the areas where there is the most interactions between humans and animals.

• Changing the Trap Neuter Release (TNR) program: Will focus on trapping feral cat colonies in one area until completion. The policy now is moving the trapping from location to location.

• Training (and retraining): Shelter staff and volunteers will be required to participate in an annual training course concerning handling of animals. In addition, Gillen noted, “Supervisors and management level employees will be required to complete an annual management training course.

• Other planned actions include more regular maintenance and upkeep, long-range capital plans, upgrading the website to make it more user friendly and “work with current and former rescue and adoption partners, and engage new partners, to enhance the existing rescue and adoption programs.”

Gillen is also proposing for councilmembers’ consideration the possibility of moving the shelter from the Department of General Services to the Department of Public Safety.

“I want to stress that this proposal is not intended to be a reflection on the Commissioner of the Department of General Services and is purely intended to provide focused oversight by a department involved in administrative and enforcement functions,” Gillen said in her memo.

The supervisor also proposed to reorganize the shelter division to properly reflect its separate activities, with subdivisions headed by managers.

“The current name of the division does not adequately represent all of the functions handled at the shelter,” Gillen said in her memo. “While sheltering and control are components, the shelter also handles adoption, rescue and other programs. It is my recommendation to rename the division the ‘Division of Animal Services.’”

Finally, Gillen’s staff, along with the Department of Human Resources and the Department of Civil Service, will interview each shelter employee “to ensure that they are working in title and are qualified for the jobs they have been assigned.”

Concluded Gillen, “While these recommendations will not resolve all of the issues at the shelter, it is important to begin the process of moving forward with corrective measures. I sincerely believe that [councilmembers are] interested in improving the service delivery and quality of care at the shelter and I hope that we can work together on implementing these proposals for the betterment of our shelter pets. Our priority, first and foremost, is the care, well-being and safety of the animals and shelter workers. I am committed to addressing any and all issues at the shelter, and welcome input from the town board and all of the many dedicated volunteers and employees who serve our growing shelter population.”

In a memo sent to Gillen, town board members agreed with some of her proposals, but wanted her office to provide a financial impact statement of the consequences of the changes. They also wanted to “wait until the results of the RFQ on privatization of the shelter prior to implementing changes to a $4 million operation.”

Members (the memo did not list names) were also skeptical of the county comptroller’s office audit, pointing out that town Comptroller Kevin Conroy “and his audit staff have the full legal authority to conduct a performance audit of [the shelter] and should therefore have been engaged, along with the board, in the process prior to the recently announced county audit.”

Asked to respond to the councilmembers’ memo, Mike Fricchione, a spokesman for Gillen, stated, “The rest of the town board is missing a key point: the county comptroller is an outside, independent agency. Any kind of internal town audit is likely to be questioned. The goal is to do what no other supervisor or town board in the history of Hempstead has been willing or able to do, which is actually tackle the issues head on.”

He added, “Supervisor Gillen and the rest of the town board have the same shared goal of providing the best care and safety of the animals and shelter workers. The town board has been an active participant in all the administration’s decisions, as evidenced by the detailed plans that the supervisor submitted to them for their consideration. If the councilmembers want to play a more active role in fixing the animal shelter, then they should pick up the phone and propose a solution of substance.”

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Frank Rizzo is a journalist at Anton Media Group. With decades of experience in the industry, he is exceptionally equipped to cover local politics, business and other topics that matter to readers.

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