Citizen activism, and the appropriate servant response from Commissioner Noack, helped to untangle the Animal Shelter mess a year ago; lessons learned

Former Animal Shelter Director Todd “Boss” Hayden at the height of his governmental power.

Conroe, September 24 – A year ago, the Montgomery County Animal Shelter remained in crisis. Citizen activism – and the appropriate servant response from Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack – helped to untangle the crisis and put the Shelter on a far better track.

The crisis reached its zenith during Labor Day weekend in 2016 when an unannounced midnight inspection of the Shelter occurred on Sunday, September 4, 2016. A group of citizens with the assistance of a Deputy in the Sheriff’s Office gained access to the Shelter just before midnight and conducted an extensive inspection of every room in the facility. The horrors they witnessed even brought tears to the eyes of the law enforcement officers who participated in the inspection. Suffering dogs, filthy cages, animals kept outside in the Texas heat without drinkable water, backed up feces, terrible disease, and even animals writhing in locked closets with broken bones were all parts of what they saw.

It was more than this community could bear.

How this community got to that horrible point with our Animal Shelter

After former Constable Tim Holifield sold the private contractor, Care Corporation, to an unpopular pair of veterinarians, the County government took the Shelter’s operations back and turned them over to rookie Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jim Clark, who had been a commissioner for less than a month at the time. Under Clark’s oversight, the Animal Shelter was a disaster. Clark was on a steep learning curve as a public servant. The MCAS disaster has taught him the importance of listening to citizens who knew a lot more about how to run an animal shelter than did he.

On March 25, 2016, the Montgomery County Commissioners Court, under County Judge Craig Doyal’s direction precipitously hired a new MCAS director, Todd “Boss” Hayden. Doyal failed to disclose to the public or anyone else that the Texas Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners had recently disciplined Hayden for animal cruelty during his treatment of an animal under his care.

Under Hayden’s watch, the Animal Shelter became a sight for several animal abuse, filth, mis-treatment of volunteers, and wholesale chasing of volunteers away. Since animal shelters depend upon volunteers for their operations and for successful adoptions, the miserable animal population under Hayden swelled to over 700 animals on average, although Hayden satisfied some bizarre need for “lebensraum” (space) by euthanizing animals, even puppies and kittens, by the dozens daily. It was sick.

After both animal activists and political conservatives joined forces, under the leadership of Laurie Elliott, Bill O’Sullivan, Jacqueline Beaton, Geoff Litke, Minda Harris, Robbie Benson, and several others, Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack finally stepped in and led the insurgency to force the County government finally to hire a new Director.

Noack got involved after reports of the midnight inspection of MCAS on September 4 began to filter out into the community. Citizen activists had had enough of the refusal of the Commissioners Court to listen to their concerns. Noack contacted one of the citizens and requested that he set up a meeting and tour of the Animal Shelter later that same day, Friday, September 16, 2017. Much to Noack’s surprise, almost fifty individuals from the animal caring community came to the meeting despite the short notice.

After a lengthy discussion and tour of the Shelter, Noack agreed to meet with citizen experts on animal care and shelter management (just as Noack had initially met with citizen experts on the County’s budget at the beginning of the 2017 budget cycle). Noack spent two days – September 19 and 20 – gathering information from citizens who met with him in his County office. Noack then presented a draft report for Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley and several citizen activists to review.

The final draft report, which both Noack and Riley proposed, became a working tool for the eventual improvements that came to the Animal Shelter. On September 27, 2016, the Commissioners Court, primarily at Riley’s urging, discussed the proposed citizen plan. The Commissioners held an Animal Shelter Workshop on October 5, 2016. On November 5, 2016, Noack participated in another detailed tour of the Shelter.

Finally, on December 12, 2016, a new director, Charles Jackson, replaced Hayden, and the Animal Shelter began to see substantial improvements.

Lessons learned

The Commissioners Court was entirely unable to solve the Animal Shelter crisis, until the elected members consulted directly with the leading governmental authorities in our County government, the citizens. After Noack welcomed input from the citizens, the reforms began!

With County government spending, our entire community faces a dire disaster. The five members of the Commissioners Court clearly are unable to reduce government spending and the taxes which support such spending. The Commissioners Court received a Citizens Budget Committee report after several volunteer citizens spent thousands of hours reviewing and recommending changes in the Montgomery County Budget.

With County spending, however, the Commissioners Court first blocked citizens from participating in the “budget workshop” in July, 2017, and then ignored the Citizens Budget Committee report altogether. When citizens brought detailed and major concerns to the Commissioners Court on September 5, 2017, the Commissioners Court – except for Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jim Clark – completely ignored any of those concerns and adopted a Fiscal Year 2018 Budget which has major problems in it.

Prediction: The Commissioners Court will have to adopt “budget amendments” for the Fiscal Year 2018 budget within a few weeks of the October 1, 2017, beginning of Fiscal Year 2018.

As long as the Commissioners Court ignores the citizens who clearly know a lot more about the County’s budget than do the Commissioners and who are the highest governmental authorities of all, the County government will continue to fail to reduce the tax rate or government operational expenditures.

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