Cortland SPCA employees allege foul play, call for investigation into board members

CORTLANDVILLE, N.Y. – Current and former employees of the Cortland Community SPCA are alleging the organization’s board of directors of misconduct, resulting in distrust between employees and board members.

Seven shelter employees filed a motion of no confidence in the SPCA”s Board of Directors on May 22, bringing attention to what they say are inappropriate actions by board members that have been detrimental to the day-to-day operations of the shelter.

One month later, employees say the problems have not been addressed.

“None of us were given the trust to do our job, even though we are all qualified,” said Rachel Swirski, a former shelter employee. “We just always met resistance from the board.”

Swirski also accused the board of overstepping its boundaries, at times making decisions that led to cats and dogs receiving the wrong food and medication.

“They are not qualified to run the place,” she said. “They are not really held accountable for all of this and it’s a real problem for the staff.”

Other allegations listed in the motion include:

– outwardly rude comments and profane language towards staff
– overhearing false and accusatory complaints that office staff “does nothing” and “does not answer phone calls”
– lack of transparency of board activity, leading to confusion, uncertainty and distrust between board and staff
– lack of required training for staff, including how to deal with aggressive dogs
– board members overstepping boundaries and making decision that are not their responsibility

The Cortland Community SPCA building on McLean Road (Peter Blanchard/Cortland Voice)

The Cortland Community SPCA building on McLean Road (Peter Blanchard/Cortland Voice)

“A breakdown in communication”

In March, SPCA Board of Directors President Joe Peters became aware that relations between the staff and board were not going as well as he was led to believe.

So, he asked the board to step in and help with daily operations.

“Board members have always had an active role…we have a small staff,” he said.

Peters defends the actions of the board, saying some employees are exaggerating the issues between staff and board members.

“All of this has been addressed,” Peters said. “We’ve come into some small, minor issues between board and staff.”

Peters, who came on as board president in January, said the issues were related to cleanliness, training and documentation.

When asked about accusations of board members verbally harassing staff employees, Peters said he never witnessed such an incident.

“The hazmat incident”

On May 8, eight people were hospitalized after an employee accidentally mixed bleach and lime sulphur dip, which is used to treat ringworm. The mixture created toxic fumes, forcing the evacuation of shelter employees and animals.

Since the incident, Peters says the chemicals are now clearly labeled and locked in a cabinet in his office.

But for some employees, the accident was symptomatic of a bigger problem at the shelter—a lack of training for employees.

Swirski said board members ignored safety concerns that were brought up by employees a week prior to the incident.

“We never had a fire drill,” she said. “There was a lack of concern [by the board] for everyone’s safety.”

Swirski said none of the employees had been properly trained to handle the situation.

“There should have been some sort of training beforehand. Things should have been more clearly labeled.”

Calling for an investigation

Donna Moran, another former shelter employee who resigned at the end of May, said the majority of the problems were related to board members interfering with the daily operations of the shelter, especially when it came to the animals.

“I think the board members need to be held accountable for what they are doing,” Moran said. “I’m hoping the community will step up and join us at the board meetings to address what needs to be fixed.”

The next board meeting will be held Monday, June 22, at 6 p.m. at the Hampton Inn Conference Room at 26 River Street in Cortland.

Peters said there will be time for limited public comment.

“I am curious to see what the public has to say,” he said.



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