Board split at Chesco SPCA

Posted: February 28, 2014

CHESTER COUNTY Three months after it took control of the troubled Chester County SPCA, a newly constituted 20-member board is divided over how to operate the shelter for Chester and Delaware Counties' stray animals, board members say.

Evidence of the discord became public Saturday when executive director Emily Simmons called West Goshen police to remove two board members and two volunteers from the property, according to police. The volunteers were told to leave and not come back.

The incident, say some of those involved, spoke to underlying problems at the facility and fundamental disagreements over the roles of board members.

"If I wasn't there, I would not have believed this story," said Steve Bazil, one of the board members escorted from the property. The four, he said, had come to the shelter to evaluate a dog.

Simmons declined to discuss the incident, as did Conrad Muhly, the board president. But in a Feb. 18 e-mail obtained by The Inquirer, Muhly authorized Simmons to call police if board members or others "interfere" with shelter operations.

"Some think board members are to govern and set policy and not get involved in operations of the shelter," said Pat Biswanger, a board member from Delaware County, while others "think you can go into the shelter and do what you want to do."

The 85-year-old nonprofit shelter takes in about 5,000 animals a year.

The shelter came under fire from current and former staff and volunteers during the summer for alleged mistreatment of animals, a rise in euthanasia rates, and ineffective board leadership.

Muhly himself is embroiled in a controversy involving the agreement of sale of a 20-acre parcel the shelter owns to a real estate partnership in which he is a principal.

Bazil joined the board when it was reconstituted in the fall. Regarding the Saturday incident, Bazil said that he had asked fellow board member Karen Overall, a veterinarian and animal behaviorist, to help evaluate a dog at the shelter he hoped to foster. Two volunteers came to help.

"The next thing I know, the police are showing up asking me to leave," Bazil said.

"I had no idea what was going on," said Jen McCreary, one of the volunteers.

Board member Marsha Perelman said division isn't surprising for new boards that have no established working relationships.

"It is very hard for some people who have not been on boards to know where the line is drawn between governance and management," Perelman said.

Among other recent troubles at the center, a new code of conduct has alienated volunteers; questions about the death of a dog, after it was spayed, played out across social media; and two recently hired managers were fired, and a third left.

"Any organization's transition is not going to be without its bumps," said Simmons. Still, said Simmons, the shelter has recently made strides.

The shelter has hired a full-time veterinarian, increased public hours, now has an overnight staff, and retained a marketing and social-media manager and a behavioral consultant; and upgraded shelter software.

"I hoped we would be a little further along, but we will get there," said Simmons.



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