Tuesday, March 24, 2009

L.A. Council barking mad over Bok's spay/neuter plan

L.A. Council barking mad over Bok's spay/neuter plan
By Rick Orlov
Posted: 03/23/2009 02:57:10 PM PDT Daily Breeze
(Rick Orlov is not a contributor to BoardWatch)

A City Council panel rebuked the head of Los Angeles' Animal Services Department on Monday as it recommended resurrecting the city's $150,000 spay-neuter voucher program.

In a rare public dressing down of a general manager, Councilmen Dennis Zine and Jack Weiss blasted Animal Services Director Ed Boks, saying they had lost confidence in his management of the department.

"It is one blunder after another with you," Zine said. "This is just another example of poor leadership in your department."

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The dispute centers on Boks' March 10 decision to suspend two city-sponsored spay-neuter voucher programs in a cost-cutting measure. The programs - offering vouchers of $30 to $70 - defrayed the cost of sterilizing dogs and cats to help pet owners comply with a city law requiring animals to be altered by the time they're 6 months old.

The law aims to lower and eventually eliminate the thousands of euthanizations conducted in the city's animal shelters every year.

The City Council is scheduled Friday to consider a motion by Councilman Tony Cardenas ordering the program reinstated.

"It's important for us to understand we would be going backwards," Cardenas said. "It's untimely that the department would be terminating the spay and neuter program and not take into account what we are trying to accomplish."

But Boks said he had to suspend the program to comply with a directive to cut $150,000 from his department's budget as the
city tries to close a $17 million budget gap.

"If we didn't take this action I would be coming to you in May and saying we can't meet our payroll," Boks told the council's Public Safety Committee.

But, he was met with strong skepticism from each of the five members of the panel.

"You acted first before consulting anyone," Weiss said. "If you had asked us (if you) should you cut this, we would have said no."

Councilmen Bernard Parks and Greig Smith, who serve on the council's Budget Committee as well as on Public Safety, said they did not recall being advised by Boks or any of his aides of the plan to suspend the voucher program.

"We have five members on that (budget) committee and we all listen closely," Smith said. "I can assure you one of us would have heard of your plans to cut out the spay and neuter vouchers and objected."

Smith said he has been an advocate for Boks, but that support has become strained.

"I've supported you over the years, but my patience is running thin," Smith said. "This is not just a line item in the budget. This mayor, this City Council has made a strong policy statement to become a no-kill city.

"I find it shocking when the mayor and this council would make such a strong policy statement that you would act on your own to eliminate this program."

Several council members and speakers also said the decision will add to future city costs when the number of unwanted pets soars and they are taken into shelters.

Zine, who also chairs the council's Personnel Committee, said he has received a number of complaints about Boks' management. Zine also criticized Boks for inappropriately spending time writing regular blog items on the department's Web site.

"You're a general manager of a major department in the city of Los Angeles," Zine said. "You shouldn't have time to blog."

Boks did not respond to Zine's complaint.

Zine said he was still upset over a proposal by Boks to create a pit-bull academy that would be run by ex-convicts and by problems in the construction of animal shelters, where there were leaks and other problems that left animals exposed to inclement weather.

"It's one thing after another with you," Zine said.

Boks acknowledged the criticism, saying "there are some things I would have done differently."

"This is a tough job. Do we make mistakes, yes. Are we committed to making corrections, yes. I am committed to making this department more credible to the community."

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