Saturday, April 10, 2010

What did Mayor Villaraigosa learn?

The challenge before the Mayor now is finding a person willing to risk his/her career to come to a community where performance expectations is driven by outside forces making narrow and extreme demands.

A wise man once admonished us to “Beware when all men speak well of you.” Well, the good news is that there is little chance of that ever happening in Los Angeles. In LA we have an ample supply of critics, (arm chair activists), who in the words of Teddy Roosevelt, ever live to “point out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better,” while they themselves never lift a finger to help in any meaningful way.

However, Roosevelt goes on to say, and I paraphrase, that the real “credit belongs to LA Animal Services’ employees, volunteers and rescue partners who are actually in the arena, whose faces are marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strive valiantly, who err and come up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but they know the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, because they spend themselves for a worthy cause; who, at the best, know, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if they fail, at least they fail while daring greatly, so that their place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat."

Such a cold and timid soul recently opined in a pusillanimous letter to the editor of the LA Daily News that, “As we approach the one year anniversary of the resignation of Animal Services General Manager Ed Boks, it doesn't appear that Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has learned much… He hired a high profile animal shelter general manager without consulting the stakeholders, namely [me, Daniel Guss]…”

As Mr. Shayne Micklich from Studio City pointed out in a follow up letter to the editor, the general tenor of Guss’ letter sounded “like a veiled threat by the radical animal groups that have terrorized elected officials and employees throughout the tenure of a number of past general managers, not just Ed Boks. The argument that [Guss et al] have sufficient technical knowledge to select the person to run this major multi-shelter city agency is like saying that security guards have the expertise to select the police chief.”

Many wonder why Guss is so hateful in his criticisms of the department; it seems so personal, I am often told. In fact, it is. Guss started attacking the City the day after I explained to him that there was no budget for a public information position that he had been trying to carve out for himself for the past several years; upon learning that he went from supporter to nemesis overnight.

Nevertheless, putting Guss’ irresponsible threats and antics aside, the question, did the mayor learn anything from my tenure? deserves an answer. And it can be answered by the Mayor himself, “Under Boks’ leadership this City revamped the way we treat and care for our pets and animals. The ‘no kill’ policy became a central component of our animal services strategy. Pet adoptions are up, shelters expanded at a rapid rate, and ‘spay and neuter’ has become more than just a call to action; it is the law in Los Angeles. We look forward to building on his legacy and continuing to make LA Animal Services the gold standard for pet protection.”

Despite Guss’ allegations to the contrary, a great deal was accomplished over the past four years, not the least of which was transforming the department into the most successful municipal pet adoption program in the nation (nearly 27,000 adoptions annually); successfully opening six new state-of-the-art animal care centers; establishing the Department’s first ever Strategic Plan; updating and standardizing policies and procedures to ensure a well-run Department; assembling the finest animal care and control medical and executive teams in the nation (who even now continue to identify and correct long-term organizational empowerment and accountability issues); and most gratifying to me, achieving the lowest euthanasia rates in the Department’s recorded history with every reason to expect continued improvement.

Amazingly, this was all accomplished during a time when the Department experienced its largest, fastest, and most historic growth in service demand; increasing shelter capacity over 250% and staffing 100%. This is comparable to recruiting, hiring, training and building a brand new department while running the existing one; no easy feat in the best of times. Over the past four years, LA Animal Services found its balance in an environment of severe budget cuts, an unprecedented demand for expansion of services, and a severe staffing shortage.

The only challenge before the Mayor now is finding a person willing to risk his/her career to come to a community where performance expectations for LA Animal Services is driven by outside forces making narrow and extreme demands. Although small in number, these people are media savvy and love the attention. They use intimidation, false accusations, and violence to forcibly divert attention from the broad causes of the pet overpopulation crisis in the City. They refuse to acknowledge the real challenges the City faces or the progress the City is making in modernizing the department and saving animals in a sincere and committed effort to make Los Angeles the first major metropolitan “no-kill” city in the United States.

While Guss seems to foolishly think the rancorous environment he creates will improve his City job aspirations, he is actually putting at risk the recruitment of talented individuals. It is time he put the animals in need in Los Angeles above his personal ambitions. It is time to stop wasting the time and energy of staff, volunteers, law enforcement, and elected officials and focus on the real work of understanding and solving pet guardianship issues in Los Angeles.

No-Kill is achievable in LA - but not as a house divided. Division is a tool of those who want to conquer and subjugate. We can and should be working together. Three local foundations have already incorporated the attached No-Kill Plan into their strategic initiatives. Click here to learn how we all can all better align our best efforts to achieve No-Kill in LA!