Storm Clouds Brewing at Animal Services

Last Wednesday, during what should have been a routine Government Accountability and Oversight Committee hearing at City Hall, the latest chapter in the convoluted saga(s) emanating from Louisville Metro Animal Services unfolded in such spectacular fashion that the sound of collective-eyebrow raising could be heard from blocks away. When it was over, television crews were still setting up their tripods at the chamber’s narthex when LMAS director Dr. Gilles Meloche gave a few terse interviews and proceeded to get the fuck out of dodge, leaving many unanswered questions in his wake.

But let’s start with the basics:

The GAO hearing’s intent was to review an investigation conducted by city auditor Mike Norman into the superlegal business relationship between LMAS and the (now “defunct”) Animal Adoption Agency of Middletown. According to the report, Meloche entered into a three-month “trial case” with AAA president Michelle Hensel with the intent of increasing city-wide animal adoption rates — despite neither LMAS nor AAA having the authority to form such a relationship in the first place (only the Mayor’s Office, with theoretical Metro Council approval, can do so).

[Hensel, it should be noted, was present at the hearing, and afterward appeared combative with the aforementioned reporters, whom she accused of spreading lies about her organization’s dealings and referred to alleged “break-ins” at her offices ,which will be the subject of future inquiry here at FatLip, FYI]

Norman’s investigation also found that LMAS failed to properly obtain commercial drivers’ licenses for so-called “S.P.O.T.” mobile clinic operators (putting the city at great liable risk), suffers from rampant inventory mismanagement and adoption revenue data inconsistencies, and has generally failed to maintain accurate adoption records even though they’ve got a fancy-sounding computer system, dubbed “Chameleon,” which is apparently more trouble than it’s worth. And all of this despite the beyond-deplorable conditions at current public animal shelters, a fact that Meloche was quick to justify by reminding the committee that a new shelter will be built “In either December or January,” most likely because the current ones are that bad and, thus, the reason for building a new one — Kafkaesque logic at its worst; the more Meloche talked, the more he made my head hurt.

However, when it was revealed that neither LMAS nor AAA could provide records of their partnership because — as Norman’s report insinuates — such documentation might very well have been misplaced or destroyed, shit quickly got weird.

Committee chair Kelly Downard, D-16, and Councilwoman Tina Ward-Pugh, D-9, began questioning Meloche about what this insinuates, but the director deferred to his lawyer, assistant Jefferson County Attorney Matthew Lemme, who spoke for him. ”My recommended answer was at this time to simply inform the committee that an internal review is being conducted,” said Lemme.

“I’m just concerned that that wasn’t what I read [in the report],” responded Ward-Pugh. “Rather, it reads based upon [Norman's] review [that there was] apparent, intentional misplacement and concealment and destruction of public records. I just want to know where that came from.”

“First of all, this committee has asked questions of Dr. Meloche and they’re entitled to an answer, if he can give it,” said Lemme. “He wants to do so. How do I advise a person to answer when the answer is ‘I’m not going to tell you?’ If that were the answer I’m sure you’d have many more questions for Dr. Meloche and for me today. We’ve said as little as we could and as much as we had to answer your question. I agree with you that if there’s an investigation being conducted … it’s a search for truth. It’s a question to be answered.”

Downard then followed up by stating that the auditor’s report already detailed enough inconsistencies and departmental failings that further internal investigations conducted by LMAS would be practically moot in lieu of the report in front of him. “The records, per the audit, didn’t say that we were missing [inventory],” said Downard. “It said [the records] don’t match up.”

“The rest of the answer,” Lemme began, “is that [LMAS] will provide a suppliment to the audit.”

Then came a moment of awkward silence, which was finally broken by Downard’s dissatisfied utterance of “Okay…” When all was said and done, the committee had little in the way of real answers regarding the true nature of Meloche’s dealings with AAA, or what (if any) substantive, corrective steps have actually been implemented by the public agency as a result of Norman’s report.

Ward-Pugh found it “regrettable” that this element of the hearing might look bad, in retrospect, and she’s right. So far, Meloche & Co. have only provided a 7-page (yet highly verbose) “outline” of goals and strategies that currently have no way to be verified — other than, of course, Meloche’s word and a supplimentary report to the report, which is happening (maybe).

And what’s more, the Norman report — and Meloche himself — recognizes that Metro Animal Services profited handsomely from its extracurricular enterprise with AAA, an organization that, to cite two examples: [1] employed city personnel without being able to provide proper documentation for hours’ worked and (illegally) creating a conflict of interest with Metro Government employees, and [2] provided financial information that could not be independently verified by the audit and in so doing, in the words of the report, “lessens the usefulness of [AAA's] bank statements as a source to verify completeness of activity.” This essentially means that the 53-percent of unaccounted-for Metro-owned animals in their care simply vanished, yet there is a $38,395 “loss” that was covered by unidentifiable “other sources.” At the very least, it’s terrible book-keeping.

By now, though, you’re probably well aware that Meloche is being sued for sexual harassment (nothing new there), and that next week the first in a series of civil rights lawsuits will be filed against he and several animal control officers for unconstitutional searches and seizures of pets, courtesy of Louisville’s insane dog ordinances. Dark clouds are gathering on the horizon, for sure, and thus far Meloche has only received a drizzling. The Mayor’s office is also passing the buck, for the moment, to the Kentucky Board of Veterinary Examiners, pending their own opinion on these matters.

After the hearing, I wanted to ask Meloche about these lawsuits. I mean, he could go to jail for some of this, right? Shaking my hand and walking with speed, he smiled and told me “I have no idea what you’re saying,” which sounded just about right.

[This is still the tip of an uglyberg, dear reader, so check up with FatLip next week for new, hideous developments.]

One Comment

  1. Barbara Haines
    Posted October 26, 2009 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    Fabulous! LEO was the first (and for a long time the ONLY media) in the ‘Ville to report on the ‘Mess at MAS’ back in 2006 and your excellent reporting continues here.

    Just a couple of notes:
    1. While Meloche claims the purpose of the AAA partnership agreement (let’s call it what it really is) was about increasing adoptions, the truth is it was about increasing the amount of $$ that went into his pocket and bypassed LMAS. He did the same thing whilst in Tallahassee!

    2. As for not having the authority to do something, you’re talking about a man who has ordered his ACOs to crawl through the windows of a citizen’s home to seize her dogs–without probable cause, a warrant or the authority under law–sent folks to court, killed their pets for not having a dog license and worse. He has all the authority he needs because nobody in this administration has ever seen fit to rein him in or stop him.

    3. “Chameleon” is the most popular animal shelter software in the US. Difficult to use? Hard to say. Click on this link to their demo video to see for yourself:
    http://www.chameleonbeach.com/Default.aspx?tabid=291

    What software did they use in the shelter at Tallahassee? Who has an MBA? Hmm….What’s wrong with this picture?

    4. There is not going to be a new shelter built soon. What they are building (due to Meloche changing former MAS Director Eric Blow’s plans for a new shelter entirely) is going to be nothing more than an adoption center. Animals will need to be shuttled back & forth from the currently disease-ridden shelter facility so the public can take home one of those FIP-infected kitties from a $3 million facility that at least appears clean.

    5. Okay, Mike Norman audits MAS and finds that they have totally inadequate controls. Would someone please explain to me why these exact same dipshits are being allowed to conduct their own “internal audit”? That’s like putting Barney Fife at the head of a terrorist task force.

    Also, why didn’t Mike Norman recommend an investigation IN HIS AUDIT RESULT? Answer: this is Mayor Happy Pants’ way to seal the matter forever and keep Dr. Meloche (who was never vaccinated for foot-in-mouth disease) quiet.

    What this town needs is Diane Sawyer to come visit with a 60-Minutes news crew.

    Jonathan: you rock!