Indiana, PA - Indiana County

Booth-Fairman takes reins at struggling humane society

by HEATHER ROTH on May 18, 2013 11:00 AM

The Indiana County Humane Society’s interim executive director and board president both resigned last week, citing dissention with the remaining board members and differences related to how to respond to the shelter’s financial difficulties.

Reed Booth-Fairman, who has served as treasurer since March, is representing the board and providing leadership to the shelter as they work to reorganize.

“I am working on ensuring that the new shelter (on Airport Road) is done and that services in Indiana County for abused and neglected animals are not only maintained but improved,” she said. “I think they had a varying perspective in regard to ‘is all of this doable?’ From my perspective I believe it is, and I have board members and (people) in the community who are willing to try.”

Heidi Malin was hired in January as interim executive director on a six-month contract, which would have ended in June. She previously worked with the humane society to provide fundraising services.

She and board President Rosemary Corrigan resigned May 9.

“(I) resigned due to a difference of opinion in how to move forward in making the ICHS a sustainable and financially responsible organization,” Malin stated.

Corrigan said that while her loyalty to the animals and the humane society remain intact, she felt that she was just in the way while serving on the board.

“There are people on that board who have money and connections. I do not. Anytime I expressed an opinion … those folks with money and connections would say, ‘OK, I’m done then. I quit,’” she said. “I decided my being there just created chaos and anger, and it would be better for me to go away quietly and allow people with money and connections to get money (for the shelter). My real reason for leaving was so that (they) would stay.”

Corrigan said she felt that other board members were not being realistic and that she had tried to serve as the voice of reason. But because she did not have the funds or the connections to procure them, she felt she wasn’t able to help.

She and Malin both declined to discuss the humane society’s finances, and that situation is not clear. Booth-Fairman has been treasurer just since March, and has just stepped into the leadership role May 9. She said financial records are fragmented, in various locations, and that she has been working to determine bank account balances and expenditures.

“Things are difficult, I’m not saying they are not,” Booth-Fairman said. “It’s expensive to run an animal shelter.”

Meanwhile, an unfinished new shelter remains on Airport Road. It was to have opened last fall, then the opening was pushed back to this spring, but the humane society still owes $153,000 to the CNC Construction Co. for work completed and must raise the funds to equip the new shelter with kennels and finish the building — an additional $247,000, Booth-Fairman said.

Currently the shelter is in a county-owned building, paying, for all practical purposes, no rent or most utilities; when the humane society can move into the new building, it will be responsible for utilities. Those additional expenses were not planned for before the project began, Booth-Fairman said, which the board has just recently realized.

“I believe these things are manageable but there was no plan initially,” she said. “I feel very confident that it’s going to be a tremendous amount of work, but I believe it can be done.”

She said she is looking for opportunities to work with utility companies and other organizations to reduce those costs as well as secure other sources of funding.

The board’s response to those finances played a part in Malin’s resignation.

In a letter dated May 9 and addressed to Corrigan, she cited a lack of public transparency about the shelter’s finances and a concern over legal fallout from charges brought against the kennel manager as reasons for her resignation.

“The board’s continued lack of public transparency about its current financial situation; the repeated never-ending accusations by Robyn Barton; and the potential default on making payments for IRS employment taxes have put me (and you) at risk professionally,” she wrote.

Kennel manager Lisa Wier was accused of forging Dr. Robyn T. Barton’s name on a neuter certificate; Wier agreed to waive the preliminary hearing in March after an offer to be admitted to the accelerated rehabilitative disposition program.

While Malin did not elaborate on the accusations referenced in her letter, she said she was concerned that the fallout from Wier’s charges could come back on the ICHS board. She suggested the remaining $2,625 on her contract be applied to hiring an attorney experienced in nonprofit and criminal law who should “be able to defend the shelter in any cases involving either board irresponsibility or Robyn Barton, should she decide to bring charges against you in the future,” she wrote.

She suggested the shelter be temporarily closed until the issues could be revolved, sending the animals to other area shelters to work through the financial problems.

But Booth-Fairman said closure is not on the table.

“I am working on ensuring that the new shelter (on Airport Road) is done and that services in Indiana County for abused and neglected animals are not only maintained but improved,” she said. “I assure you, the ICHS will not shut down, we will not close our doors. That is not an option.”

Booth-Fairman is the retired executive director of the Indiana County Head Start, which she led for 38 years. It’s that experience that she said she brings to bear on the humane society.

And with a number of rescued dogs and cats, the issue is a personal one as well.

“It’s very important to me,” she said.

She is donating her time, and said she is committed to both continuing the operation of the shelter and moving into the new building.

She and other remaining board members — Camille Morris, Maryann Baran and Fran Pape — are working to bring in volunteers, solicit funds and follow up on fund pledges that may not have been filled. And they’re working to improve communication around the county, meeting with municipal governing bodies to explain what they do and how they can help.

“We are working hard. We are not expecting money to drop out of heaven,” she said. “My goal is every day things get a little bit better.”

And she wants to look forward, not backward.

“I don’t have time to think about how we got here, but how we need to set it up so that it never happens again, and (so that we’re) here for the animals,” she said.

Corrigan, too, said she hopes the community steps up to support the shelter.

“It is of course my hope that the community will rise to this occasion,” she said. “If the community isn’t going to step up to help … there’ll be a lot of homeless, neglected animals without a place to go, and then the community will have different problems. This is not something that’s going to go away.”

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