Tensions run high between board, employees at Cortland SPCA meeting

CORTLAND, N.Y. – Tensions were high between the board of directors at the Cortland Community SPCA and former shelter employees at the organization’s board meeting Monday night.

More than 20 people attended the meeting, where accusations of misconduct and mistreatment of animals were heard from both parties.

Jennifer Oates, a volunteer at the Cortland Community SPCA, speaking at the Hampton Inn Conference Room in Cortland (Peter Blanchard/Cortland Voice)

Jennifer Oates, a volunteer at the Cortland Community SPCA, speaking at the Hampton Inn Conference Room in Cortland (Peter Blanchard/Cortland Voice)

Rachel Swirski, a former SPCA employee, addressed her concerns to the board and members of the public.

“The animals aren’t getting the best care they can because there’s been a breakdown of order,” she said. “The biggest issue is that there is no division between the board and the staff.”

Donna Moran, another former employee, accused some board members of ignoring safety concerns raised by staff members.

“These are issues the board of directors has tried to sweep under the rug by attempting to silence the staff and push them out of the shelter,” she said.

Swirski, Moran and other shelter employees issued a motion of no confidence to the board on May 22. Employees accused board members of interfering in day-to-day operations and overstepping its boundaries.

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

At Monday night's board meeting, Jennifer Oates, a long-time volunteer at the shelter, made an impassioned plea for reconciliation between both parties.

“I have led my team and other teams through adversity, worse than what you all are going through right now,” Oates said. “There’s a lot of hurt feelings on both sides, and in any situation such as this, you need to be very objective. I think we all need to take a step back and do what is best for the community, the animals and the people.”

Oates, who later stated she supports the board in its efforts to improve the shelter, said the organization could benefit from strong leadership.

The organization’s executive director, Bob Eckard, resigned in May, while former shelter manager Diana Niemi left in March.

Peters said Eckard had never approached the board with any issues between board and staff.

“Now that [Eckard]’s gone, we’ve hired more staff…we’re adopting out animals, it just seems to be an all-around better place,” he said.

Board member Kitty Totman said they are currently interviewing candidates for the position of office manager and animal care manager.

Those two positions would work to fill the role of a shelter manager, Peters said.

“I do appreciate what people are saying, but I think we should move forward,” he said. “We’re still in discussion of possibly just doing an animal care manager and an office manager working together to fill that position.”

Towards the end of the meeting, Oates suggested to the board that the shelter could benefit from a system of checks and balances through competent management.

“That’s kind of my theory, too,” Peters said.


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