Contention, accusations and counter-accusations dominated this year’s annual meeting of the La Plata County Humane Society, where members elected two new people to the organization’s board of directors – Jon Patla and Ron Humble – and re-elected Bret Kostner, while Sue Spielman, the organization’s embattled board president was effectively deposed because of a legal technicality.
Four candidates were defeated, including Edith Balceris, who filed a lawsuit to get on the ballot.
The election was brutal: During the candidates’ questions and answers, many members sought to blame Balceris for bringing bad press to the Humane Society after the nonprofit’s nominating committee initially barred Balceris from running for the board, though Balceris has donated almost $20,000 to the Humane Society and volunteered at the thrift store for eight years until getting banned this spring for disagreeing with management.
At the end of the meeting, former volunteer Mary Thomas demanded an apology for the way management had mistreated the volunteers at the thrift store under Karen Streeter’s leadership.
Streeter left her post in the spring.
Spielman said she was “sorry people are upset” but refused to apologize, saying the bans were necessary as some of the banned parties were guilty of misappropriating belongings, an assertion that caused more than a dozen former volunteers to shake their heads.
The packed meeting got off to a blistering start when one faction, led by former board member Dick Dahl, argued that Spielman, who holds the title of board president, was in fact not a board member at all, as her appointment was not confirmed by the board at its last annual meeting as required by the organization’s bylaws.
The other board members conceded the point; running the meeting thus fell to board vice president Rachel Gilman, who, in her first act, empowered Spielman to run the meeting.
Spielman said there had been “a lot of discussion in the last couple of months that we have been pushing this organization into the ground. The opposite is true,” she said, saying the Humane Society is in a “very healthy position,” and while thrift-store income was slightly below what was budgeted, that was “largely due to a negative letter-writing campaign that went on in (The Durango Herald).”
At that point, Dahl, a former board member, stood up and interrupted her:
“Madame Chair!” he said.
“This is the third time you’ve interrupted the meeting,” Spielman said, calling him a “monumental distraction” before threatening to eject him.
Spielman said financially, the Humane Society was on a great trajectory, and she told members that the thrift store’s underperformance was because of seasonal factors, as it always makes more money at the end of the year then it does at the beginning.
After the election, the rhetoric escalated, with Dahl, who is a CPA, accusing Spielman of creative accounting, saying, “some of the figures you gave in your speech bordered on lies.”
Later, he accused Spielman of “destroying this organization” and said her portrayal of the thrift store as improving its financial performance relative to previous years was an “unequivocal lie.”
Spielman said, “I find it repulsive that Mr. Dahl can stand up and say I’m lying about this organization ... There’s not a single cent that’s misrepresented in any of our financials.”
In an interview after the meeting, board member Gilman, herself a CPA, defended the accuracy of the financial information Spielman cited, saying it was prepared by an independent auditor.
But newly elected board member Humble, who prepared the organization’s financial statements for 25 years until retiring in February, said though the Humane Society is in great financial shape overall, it was incorrect to attribute its declining revenues to seasonal factors, saying he didn’t remember seeing such a phenomena in previous years.
He said the recent downturn in the thrift store happened “after all the volunteers were dismissed” by the former thrift-store director. “That was not handled properly.”
He said the “downturn in the thrift store has caused a bunch of problems – that’s why all the ruffled feathers (Saturday).”
Asked what it would take for Humane Society membership to heal, he said, “saying sorry.”