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L.A. animal shelter workers voice complaints about agency chief

October 8, 2008 | 10:52 am

Ed Boks, general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Animal Services

Dozens of frustrated Los Angeles city shelter workers, as well as many volunteer animal welfare advocates, brought their complaints about the shelter system's general manager, Ed Boks, to a public hearing at Van Nuys City Hall on Tuesday night.

"I realize the department is often controversial," said Linda Gordon, a staffer of L.A. Animal Services, the agency that runs the city's municipal shelters.

"We're trouble for you," she told Councilmen Dennis Zine and Tony Cardenas. "But we're here tonight -- workers, volunteers, the humane community. ... How can anyone expect us to move the department forward if we have no confidence or trust in the general manager?"

At least 150 people -- including about 60 employees of Animal Services -- attended the hearing, which was called by the City Council's Personnel Committee. The hearing was convened in the wake of a petition that at least half the staff of Animal Services signed earlier this year stating they had "no confidence" in Boks. The employees and their union leaders first took the petition to the mayor's office. Then, dissatisfied with what they said was a lack of response, they presented it to the City Council. Boks, as head of a city agency, answers only to the mayor. The City Council cannot fire him.

Zine, who chairs the Personnel Committee, listened intently to the speakers. He and Cardenas peppered them with questions. When many employees said they worried about retaliation for speaking against Boks, Zine assured them that he had all their names and he would make sure they did not suffer any adverse action on their jobs for attending the hearing.

One by one, staffers portrayed Animal Services as a rudderless ship. They faulted the general manager for failing to tell them how to carry out his goal of creating a "no kill" policy for the shelters. They said he gave conflicting directives and was more interested in photo ops than caring for the animals.

"We can't make heads or tails of just about any policy in this department," said Jacob Miller, a shelter worker.

"We don't need a general manager who says to employees, 'If you want to know what's going on in the department, read my blog,' " said Gordon, referring to Boks' blog on the Animal Services website.

Employees and some animal welfare advocates also complained that Boks exaggerated the extent to which the department was headed toward his no-kill goal -- which would mean no healthy animals were euthanized. Employees said Bok got around this by classifying many shelter animals as either sick or behaviorally unsuitable.

Employees also complained that, in an effort to meet the no-kill goal, shelters were becoming overcrowded warehouses where animals fought with each other, endangering themselves and shelter workers.

Animal control officer Stacey Dancy -- in a statement read by a colleague to the council members -- mentioned that Boks had declared last month that only he, an assistant general manager and an Animal Services captain were qualified to assess whether an animal had a behavior problem that would allow euthanization.

"I beg to differ with this utterly ridiculous and pompous statement," Dancy said in her statement. She said that neither Boks nor his deputy "impound, house, feed, clean or medicate animals, move animals from crowded cage to crowded cage, break up fights."

"I think the problem is a lack of a business-like strategy," said Laura Beth Heisen, a former commissioner on the board that oversees Animal Services (but has little power over the agency).

Being general manager of a large municipal shelter -- grappling with overcrowding as well as the desire to euthanize as little as possible -- can be a challenge. Boks has been under fire from animal welfare advocates -- and now his employees -- during much of his nearly three-year tenure here. In a letter he sent to Zine Monday he said he had been hired to make changes in the shelter system.

"I can be hard to get along with, demanding, sometimes exasperating and often in a hurry to get things done," he wrote. "That can create an uncomfortable situation for veterans who were comfortable with their jobs as they existed before I arrived. ... That is what it sometimes means to be a 'change agent.' "

-- Carla Hall

Photo:  Ed Boks in 2007. Credit: Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times

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