Sonsini Shelter Leadership Entrenched in Legal Battle
|The board of the Sonsini Animal Shelter is embroiled in a power struggle over its management. |
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A judge has put a temporary halt on an attempt to oust two board members at the Eleanor Sonsini Animal Shelter.
Board President Krista Wroldson-Miller and Treasurer Judith Trumble filed for the restraining order after the three other board members voted them off and then locked them out of the shelter. The move came after a month of infighting among the board regarding the manager, Lori Robertson.
Judge William O'Grady ruled in Wroldson-Miller and Trumble's favor on Dec. 12, saying the two have a case in saying the vote to oust them did not comply with the Friends of Eleanor Sonsini Animal Shelter Inc. bylaws and was "null and void."
"The plaintiffs have shown a reasonable likelihood that they will succeed on the merits of their claim that the special meeting of the Friends of Eleanor Sonsisni Animal Shelter Inc. that was conducted on November 3, 2017 was not conducted pursuant the amended bylaws of that corporation that were in existence on that date and that any actions purportedly taken at that November 3, 2017 meeting were therefore null and void," O'Grady wrote.
The decision puts Wroldson-Miller and Trumble back in charge of the shelter and future court hearings will determine the outcome of the power struggle.
According to the complaint filed by Wroldson-Miller and Trumble, the issues among the board particularly started in August. Employees had resigned and the shelter needed a new manager. Board member Lisa Denault-Viale highly recommended Robertson, according to the complaint.
The complaint says there was a clear chain of command with Wroldson-Miller serving as the chief executive officer of the shelter.
"Robertson was to report directly to me, as the Chair of Board and Chief Executive Officer of the corporation. All Board communications to staff and all staff communications to the Board are to travel through Robertson and me," Wroldson-Miller wrote.
But, Robertson allegedly communicated with board members Denault-Viale, Gloria McClay, and Kimberly Arre-Gerber regarding management of the shelter.
Wroldson-Miller alleges that in the following months, a number of policies and procedures were being violated by the manager. She claims Robertson had violated policies such as sending dogs home the day of surgery, failing to rotate pest-control chickens to the kennel to keep it tick free, adopted out dogs without evaluations, released dogs under quarantine early, and violated the shelter's agreement with the city of Pittsfield to maintain accurate records.
Wroldson-Miller asked the board to issue a disciplinary warning to Robertson but the board did not support it. The tension grew further in September when the "options committee" voted to euthanize a dog.
"One of our new staff members was very close to this dog and was particularly troubled by the decision as she desired to continue to work with the dog. Despite the Board approval, Robertson never scheduled the euthanasia. Weeks after the decision was affirmed by the Board, Robertson asked me by telephone if the staff person could 'take the dog home.' This was a highly irregular request that we had never before dealt with, but we are Sonsini, and it is our job to save these animals if possible. I told Robertson to tell the staff person that she didn't know and would have to take the matter to the Board," Wroldson-Miller wrote.
"The next day I went to the Shelter and the staff person ran up and hugged me. I did not understand why. She thanked me for letting her take the dog home. I immediately told her that would not be my decision and that I could take it to the Board, but I couldn't guarantee anything. I also told her that if the Board even considered it, there would likely be numerous conditions, including kennels and muzzles."
The issue then led to McClay resigning on Oct. 1, the complaint reads. But less than a week later, Denault-Viale nominated McClay back onto the board, which was approved by a majority vote. But, McClay wasn't voted as an officer, the documents read.
"They held their illegal meeting and voted Wroldson-Miller and me off the Board without cause most likely because they wanted to turn the reins over to Robertson to run," Trumble wrote in her affidavit.
Meanwhile, Trumble, as treasurer, claims there were concerns with financial records but the other three board members backed Robertson. Trumble said the shelter had lost close to $10,000 in the previous months.
A few days after a heated board member meeting, McClay called for a special meeting. The three met at Arre-Gerber's home and voted Trumble and Wroldson-Miller off the board. The complaint alleges that McClay did not have the authority to call that meeting.
"The day following the meeting, defendants proceeded to change the locks on the shelter premises and to change the alarm code with the security company," reads the complaint.
Wroldson-Miller's authority to use the corporation's credit card was revoked and she was told she could not be on site, according to the complaint.
Still attempting to act as the shelter's CEO, on Dec. 1, "Wroldson-Miller placed Robertson on involuntary leave pending an investigation into the unaccounted-for money during the time period in question."
Then, Trumble and Wroldson-Miller alleged a number of additional violations were found including failure to vaccinate animals, accepting surrendered animals from out of state, failure to follow proper inspections, failure to de-worm animals, adopting out cats with ear mites, and failure to collect adoption fees for a number of animals.
With the judge's determination, Wroldson-Miller is back in charge of the shelter. She says since then "we have corrected many of the problems that arose under the prior manager." Wroldon-Miller and Trumble had also been accused of financial mismanagement themselves but the pair refute those claims.
"We, the Plaintiffs in this case, have contacted the state auditor to request an audit — we welcome one," Wroldson-Miller wrote.
She added, "for the last three years the entire board has been content in having Judith manage all of the finances (without offering assistance), and in having me handle everything else at Sonsini (ordering, employee matters, policies, contract negotiations, committees, policies, rules, volunteer issues, animal emergencies, computer issues, internet problems. in short, everything else).
"At no time have they assisted in any of the day-to-day operations of the shelter. Nor will they. They will, if successful, create anarchy at the shelter by abandoning policies and legal requirements that the shelter must follow to maintain our contract. The risk to Sonsini as an entity is great; the risk to our animals (current and future) is greater."
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