Shelter leader receives Commission vote of no confidence

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Tuesday June 14, 2022 by Chad Swiatecki

The city’s Animal Advisory Commission has passed a vote of no confidence to Don Bland, chief animal services officer and director of the Austin Animal Center.

At Monday’s meeting, the commission voted 8-1 with two abstentions to adopt a 17-point resolution outlining how it believes Bland has underperformed in his role since taking office in 2019. According to the resolution, Bland routinely failed to provide the commission with accurate and complete data on animal shelter operations, mismanaged policies related to the city’s litter enclosure ordinance, provided monthly reports that were “confusing, misleading, incomplete and non-transparent,” and alienated partner organizations that help to take care of animals with special behavior needs.

The original resolution did not mention Bland alone and challenged the actions of the AAC executive team, but the commissioners chose to amend the resolution and narrow its focus to Bland’s role as head of the agency.

Ahead of the vote, a number of volunteers and former employees shared their comments on how their engagement and satisfaction with working at the shelter has fallen drastically in recent years, with some noting how the cut in weekend hours made it difficult to support the services required to provide prospective adopters.

Several commissioners were reluctant to publicly express their concerns about Bland and AAC, while others said the problems had been known for a year or more.

“It doesn’t make anyone happy, but I was on the commission when Dorinda (Pulliam) ran the shelter and I don’t want us to go back there,” said commissioner Lisa Mitchell. “I’m sorry if anyone is surprised that this type of solution is being proposed, but looking at an email I sent to my councilor’s office in August last year, I spoke about the issues that we had, and it wasn’t It wasn’t the first time we’ve had to discuss this. I’m sorry if anyone feels caught off guard or surprised, but this has been a long time coming, and this failure to get the data and information we need to make important budget decisions, I don’t know how it continues at this point.”

A motion to submit the resolution and conduct more research into the shelter and Bland’s role was unsuccessful, with commissioner Paige Nilson arguing that some of the points in the criticism could be inaccurate and hurt the commission’s credibility.

“Even if we want to tell the city council that we have a big problem, we had better be extremely careful with our words. We want to be believed and we want to be accurate, and this resolution should have the opportunity to be much more thoroughly scrutinized and discussed with much back and forth,” she said. “I can see there are several inaccuracies, which doesn’t mean we shouldn’t tell the city council there’s a big problem, but we have to be precise when we do.”

When asked about the commission’s role and its ability to bring serious claims against the shelter’s operators, chairman Craig Nazor said the council needs to be aware that measures such as turning the city into a no-kill city threaten to fail.

“I raised that with some city council members and as I understand it, the big deal in Austin was no killing and that was a policy mandated by the council. As a commission, we are the eyes and ears of our appointments and report to the city council on how their policies are being implemented,” he said. “If we start to get nervous about the possibility of no-kill going away … we’re not telling the city council what to do, but if you vote for it, you’re telling the city council we have a big problem, and that’s it it what we do. worry.”

Photo made available under a Creative Commons license.

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