Thursday, October 12, 2006

77. APL is going to the dogs

The Friendship Animal Protection League (APL) has been in the news lately, releasing information that it is in serious financial trouble. On Sunday, October 15, the APL held its annual membership meeting at the shelter, where it elects trustees and officers of the board. Concerned with the viability of the APL, my wife and I paid our dues, to become voting members, and attended the meeting. I debated whether or not to seek election to the board- in the end, deciding to see what direction the organization took before committing.

The meeting was attended by forty or so dedicated animal lovers, all which should be commended for their dedication in helping these homeless companions. Many of these volunteers donate their time and money to assist these animals in finding a blissful home. In addition to the laborious chores of cleaning cages and walking the dogs, they spend a lot of time helping with fundraising activities.

The non-profit protective league, based on the meeting we attended, seemed dangerously unorganized. The biggest shock for me was when David McClelland, the executive director, was unable to tell the membership exactly how many trustee positions were to be elected (until consulting his cheat sheet). How can an executive director not know how many trustees are to be elected at a membership meeting, especially considering that the trustees serve as his boss? Furthermore, it was disappointing to notice that many of the current trustees, not up for reelection, did not bother to attend the meeting- considering the state of the organization. After the election of what ended up to be six trustee positions, four officers, (and a "hanging chad" type discussion) a complete board of sixteen organizational trustees was put into place. The first challenge for this board will be to decide whether or not they have adequate leadership.

McClelland began the meeting with the notion that the shelter is broke. This is consistent with his statement to the Chronicle Telegram which reported that, "He (McClelland) stopped taking a paycheck in May - he made about $40,000 a year - and used his own money to pay APL staff last week." If this is the case, why did he and the board wait until October to make a public statement? The paper also reported that APL reserves ran out in September. Again, why do an executive director and his board just sit there and wait until they are out of money before making a public appeal. This delay puts the public in a tough spot, for now they have to decide whether or not to donate to what might be a "sinking ship." In other words, will my donation make a difference if the shelter is doomed to close?

Reviewing just the last two issues of the APL's newsletter also hinted at poor decision making on behalf of the APL's leadership. In the August issue, McClelland writes that he met with trustees and volunteers for a "Solutions Summit to review our financial problems and find a solution." He continues, "Of course, I reviewed the information in detail. This was a mistake. I should have told the group that we were broke but that this was not important." How is reviewing financial information with a Solutions Summit, dedicated to reviewing the financial problems, "a mistake"? How is it "not important"?

In the newsletter article he talks on two occasions about a "love miracle that will find us," and that losing the lease to Bingo, one of their most profitable fundraising events, as "God clobbering us on the head so that we could find a better place." Maybe God could have found them a better place, before the lease expired or within a month or two of its expiration? It sounds somewhat evangelical and a little desperate to me.

In the Chronicle Telegram, it says that the APL lost their Bingo lease in September. However, in the newsletter it states they lost their lease a year ago. Perhaps it was a year ago in September, and a convenient misuse of the facts as not to appear so delayed in their appeal. But it gets worse, as the October newsletter notes that, "Since people have been fighting over a plan to buy a party center and use it as a bingo hall; a plan to lease a bingo hall or doing something else to raise money quickly. Unfortunately, nothing has happened." The creative use of punctuation aside, it obviously puts forth the idea to its membership, and anyone that buys a newsletter, that this organization has had problems for a long time. Evidently, the recent financial problems were anticipated well in advance, and APL leadership has spent at least a year fighting over what to do. In the meantime, the organization has been sliding into financial difficulties. Finally, I do not think I have ever seen the "dirty laundry' between an executive director and his board shared in a community/membership letter.

The APL is a valuable resource to our community, but like any non-profit in today's competitive philanthropic market, it needs to show supporters that their donations will properly managed and utilized. There are a number of good causes and good organizations, including competing animal organizations, which donators will consider.

The challenge for the elected board is not only to rescue the APL from its financial difficulties, but also to decide if the management that created the financial hardship is capable of leading it out of it. Personally, I am skeptical.

Thursday, October 5, 2006

76. Call law what it really is

A recent trend in Congress is the attempt to pass bills through what I would call, "the backdoor." Actually, it is probably not a recent trend; it is just that I notice it more nowadays. I am also sure that it is not a partisan issue, but my recall is largely limited to the last several years of Republican rule.

There are several ways this is accomplished, such as adopting a popular or patriotic name for the bill, attaching it to a larger perhaps even compromising bill, or rendering a law meaningless by cutting off its funding source. They all lack integrity and serve nothing more than to "trick" the general, unsuspecting public. Elected officials that engage in this practice are an embarrassment to the political system- regardless of which political party they belong to.

I have previously noted the improper notion of the Patriot Act, which is actually a stripping of civil liberties, that was unread and passed by Congress in the early morning hours. The bill has nothing to do with patriotism, and one could even argue that infringing on civil liberties is, in fact, quite unpatriotic. It is more accurately described as the search for terrorists, acted upon with few boundaries. Ironically, appropriately described, it might still have passed due to the level of fear propagated by the government.

In another example, Congress recently considered a bill involving the death tax and the minimum wage. Project Vote Smart summarized it this way, "a motion to invoke cloture on a bill that increases the federal minimum wage to $7.25 by June 2009 and increases the "Death/Estate Tax" exemptions to $5 million by 2015 and extends many other expiring tax provisions (Sec. 401) (Sec. 101) ." It does not seem to me that something as important as raising the minimum wage ought to be attached to any other bill, especially one that provides such a benefit to the very wealthy- many of whom are voting on the bill itself. To me, it is analogous to your boss offering you a significant raise if you promise to ask your neighbor to feed his or her dog a little extra. I have to ask, whatever happened to the Republican plea for an "up and down" vote.

Recently, I was made aware of another sneaky and inappropriately named bill attempting to get through Congress. This one is entitled, "Public Expression of Religion Act" (H.R. 2679)." The American Humanist Association, among several opposing the bill, summarizes it this way, "This bill would bar courts from awarding attorney's fees to prevailing parties bringing suit under the Establishment Clause, and they would make it much more difficult for citizens to challenge governmental violations of the separation of church and state."

Very clever, but really, how does the person who authored and entitled this bill sleep at night? It has little to do with the public expression of religion; rather it seeks to accomplish just the opposite- preventing individuals from exercising their religious freedom. The bill seeks to prohibit victorious (that's right, victorious) attorneys from collecting their fees. Unsuccessful lawsuits do not receive attorney fees; which, of course, is the natural deterrent from investing in cases that have little chances of winning.

Thus, in order to protect the government's actions as a conscious hindrance of religious freedom under the Establishment Clause, the sponsors of this bill have resorted to cutting off the financial support necessary of bringing suit against those actions. To me, this is an immoral manipulation of our most precious freedoms. Rather than expect the government to follow the laws of this country and the rights of individuals, Congress would rather prevent its citizens, especially its poorest citizens, from challenging it.

Following a bill through Congress, as it weaves through the House and Senate, is difficult enough. Certainly there many other examples, such as the Horse Slaughter bill and the bills that attempted to commence drilling in Alaska. This is still a representative government, and I am sure that those of us that would like to occasionally follow the legislative process would appreciate our perspective laws being properly named, fairly presented and of respectable moral standard.