fbpx

GM  Brenda Barnette’s Decade at LA Animal Services –Transformation or Tyranny?

ANIMAL WATCH-The stern face of a Pit Bull adorns the Best Friends’ Animal Society’s Facebook  announcement, “Together, We Made LA a No-Kill City,” but there is no mention of Los Angeles Animal Services nor General Manager Brenda Barnette as part of this accomplishment.

Was this an oversight? 

Barnette is retiring as General Manager of LAAS after a decade of  brutal attacks by Pit Bulls and other dogs with known-aggressive behavior on innocent and unsuspecting victims—adopters, visitors, and employees at Los Angeles City animal shelters. These are dogs Barnette has made available for adoption, often with knowledge of their backgrounds and with written comments/warnings by shelter staff. 

Brenda Barnette will be remembered by these victims and their families for the injuries and trauma they will suffer for a lifetime, while City taxpayers foot the costs to settle their claims, and Barnette boasts about transforming an essential law-enforcement and  animal/human protection agency into a “no kill” shelter. 

Barnette is so averse to enforcing laws that, when an experienced LAAS Animal Control Officer recently seized a neglected animal in need of prompt veterinary care, General Manager Barnette bashed her publicly on Facebook and public undermined the animal-cruelty case. 

BRENDA BARNETTE’S LEGACY AT LAAS 

Current and past LAAS employees are describing Barnette’s decade at LA Animal Services as a “legacy of tyranny, stress and retaliation.” And the internal results of Barnette’s “management style” seem to be affirmed by facts in public documentation by her previous employees at Seattle Humane Society. 

Why did Barnette have to make her solo announcement on Facebook about LA achieving “No Kill?” Why weren’t her formerly avid supporters -- Councilman Paul Koretz (who wants to be our next Controller) and Mayor Eric Garcetti -- not standing by Barnette in a media event to announce this news? 

Barnette seems to be alone and largely unnoticed on her way out. Many insiders say they are not surprised, so let’s review the reported work environment left behind. 

According to reliable sources, within the last two weeks, two male employees at LAAS have suffered heart attacks and a third suffered a stroke.  All reportedly were otherwise healthy and ranged in age from mid-20’s to late 40’s. Other similar incidents have occurred at LAAS in the recent past, but the current cluster is alarming. 

Also, since 2019, at least seven highly experienced and dedicated, career LAAS Animal Control Officers took jobs with other agencies -- not just for added income, but some stated they were “getting out while they could.” Three others had reportedly exited to other departments not long before that. 

Here’s a glimpse of Barnette’s history before and after coming to LA and may explain why long-term, dedicated employees say that Brenda came here to destroy the department -- not support it. 

MISMANAGEMENT ON A GERBIL WHEEL 

Barnette announced on the Department’s intranet messaging board on September 15, 2016, that new Assistant General Manager Derek Brown -- hired in June -- had resigned. Barnette stated that the job was “not a good fit” for him. 

Derek Brown was a former 20-year LAAS employee who began as an animal control officer. He left in 2007, at the rank of Captain, to take on the responsibilities of Deputy Director at L.A. County Animal Care and Control. He remained in that position until, Barnette hired him as AGM to oversee field operations. So, if, after three months on the job, he was “not a good fit,” it wasn’t because Derek Brown lacked experience or industry expertise. (Insiders stated it was due to Brown’s concerns over the “management style” of Barnette’s and her Director of Field Operations Mark Salazar.) 

Derek Brown (not to be confused with Animal Services Asst. GM Dana Brown—who will soon return to LAAS as the Interim General Manager) was the fourth highly qualified and experienced AGM to leave abruptly during Barnette’s then six-year tenure. 

That’s a lot of high-level professionals who apparently were “not a good fit” at LAAS! 

Following are the public management histories of both Brenda Barnette and Mark Salazar -- whom Barnette frequently praised publicly: 

Brenda Barnette was officially appointed GM in September 2010 by former-Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who stated that she was most qualified out of 120 nationwide candidates. 

BARNETTE’S HISTORY 

Barnette was still a WA resident, had no prior animal-control experience and did not have the one mandatory prerequisite for the job -- a CA driver’s license. 

Brenda Barnette was a self-described former dog breeder and had another position in Seattle. She was Legislative Representative/Liaison for the American Kennel Club (AKC),

Brenda Barnette was beleaguered by labor issues at Seattle HS, according to an Oct. 20, 2009, media release by the Animal Control Officers’ Guild (ACOG):

The SHS with around 70 staff has had over 60 employees turnover in the last 18 months, this is over 75%! Staff fears this is not just the nature of the job but from a complete lack of attention to training, employee retention and morale by management leading to a lack of continuity in care of animals.” 

On Oct. 10, 2010, GM Barnette announced (via the internal message board) that she had decided to hire outsider Mark Salazar as the Director of Field Operations (DFO) in charge of law-enforcement and field services. Barnette explained in the post, “My job, as your General Manager, is to lead and leaders do not always get to make popular choices. . .”  

HERE’S WHO BARNETTE CHOSE TO HELP HER ‘LEAD’ 

Mark Salazar’s had a troubled public management record before joining LAAS. (Mark Salazar is still employed by GM Brenda Barnette, as the LAAS Safety Analyst): 

The Press Enterprise reported a new lawsuit: RIVERSIDE: City Workers Allege Harassment which reviews a filing against Mark Salazar in 2008:  

[This is] not the first lawsuit to allege harassment and other impropriety in the city’s code enforcement department. In 2008, five former employees sued the city and former code enforcement manager Mark Salazar, who they said harassed and discriminated against them based on age, sex and disabilities.” (Emph. added)  

“In those cases, workers alleged Salazar inappropriately touched them, made sexual and insulting comments to employees and retaliated when they complained, including sending three of them to work out of a dirty, dangerous metal shed in the city yard.”  

A suit filed in March 2008 by Mary Furfaro, Todd Solomon and Steve Livings was settled in 2010. Livings, who had been fired, was reinstated to his job with back pay.”  

2 more former Riverside code enforcement officers sue city” – Two more former Riverside code enforcement officers sued the city claiming age and sex discrimination. “The main accusations in both suits are against Mark Salazar, the city’s former code enforcement manager.”  

Mark Salazar made headlines again as the Executive Director of the Northeast Texas Humane Society in Longview, TX, in 2010, where he had reportedly worked for only nine months, and where he stated in his own report, with his photo, The Northeast Texas Humane Society has a euthanasia rate of 80%.  (Emph. added.) 

Dispute grows over contract with Humane Society - Mark Salazar refused the request of the city which funds the Humane Society to perform an audit of finances in Oct.

  1. . .(LongviewNewsjournal.com, 10/14/10)  

Humane Society director resigns - “Mark Salazar, executive director of the Humane Society of Northeast Texas, has resigned and will be returning to Los Angeles to work in that city’s animal services department.” (Longview News-journal.com, 11/24/2010)  

OTHER MANAGEMENT MISTAKES/EMBARRASSMENTS UNDER BARNETTE  

Following is the short list of the Barnette/Salazar management-team decisions (and City embarrassments) since 2010: 

8/5/2011 - LAPD, City Seize Guns at 6 L.A. Animal Shelters. Plainclothes LAPD officers are reported to have taken about 120 weapons, including shotguns, rifles and .38-caliber handguns from the six animals shelters, the LA Times explained, “The city's 75 animal control officers are issued firearms to kill wild animals that are too injured to transport to shelters.”  

An audit was requested by Animal Services head Brenda Barnette, according to the Daily News.  Lt. Troy Boswell said they were unaware of any concerns. The police handed workers at the East Valley Shelter a note from Barnette and then took .38-caliber handguns from the premises. "We were given no explanation," he said. 

10/21/2011 Phew! All of L.A. Animal Services Guns Are Accounted For, Audit Finds   “Thursday, officials announced the audit determined that all of the department's weapons were accounted for…”, the LAist reported.  

(But the lives of these dedicated, responsible officers were changed forever by Barnette’s destructive efforts and the months on administrative leave on which they had been placed were enormous.) 

2/14/2012 – Six Animal Shelter Captains Benched Pending Vending Machine Contract Probe

“The city has sent home six animal shelter commanders pending a police probe into shelter vending machine contracts,” the Daily News has learned. “The six captains were placed on paid administrative leave Sunday by Brenda Barnette, general manager for Los Angeles Animal Services.”  

“Each captain earns up to $75,000 a year. Each has been ordered not to speak with each other or the media.”  

“The vending machines had been employed by the commanders since the 1950s to provide petty cash ($20-30/mo.) for shelter decorations, prizes and pizza for workers and volunteers. The practice was codified by the department in 2008. Barnette signed another amendment early last year granting captains permission to earn shelter money through recycling or machine vending, as long as they kept records,” the Daily News reported.  

The captains were being investigated by the LAPD's Burglary Crimes Division, “their crime, explained to them by a police detective: They had eaten shelter pizza they'd helped buy by contracting for the vending machines.”  

"We have a plan of action," Brenda Barnette told Daily News reporter Dana Bartholomew. "We have been working with the city psychologist on how to manage change." 

6/13/2012 – Los Angeles Animal Services Captains Cleared  

Six Los Angeles Animal Services captains returned to work this week after being cleared of any wrongdoing for improper vending machine contracts during "Pizzagate”…. The cost of their combined paid leave: $426,000…,” the Daily News announced, adding, “Barnette did not return calls for comment.” 

Mar 18, 2013 – Los Angeles Animal Services' Brenda Barnette: 'No Night Care for Animals in City Shelters’   

“The on-going tragic implosion of Los Angeles Animal Services continues in an undated communication from General Manager Brenda Barnette, entitled, “Graveyard Shift Change for Animal Services,” . . . She states, “At the end of this month, Animal Services will not have Animal Care Technicians (ACTs) in the shelters from midnight until 6 AM. . .” 

Jul 3, 2013 – LA Animal Services GM Brenda Barnette Says Shelters Need Puppies  

After supporting an ordinance to prohibit pet stores from selling puppies, kittens, dogs or cats from puppy mills or local breeders, former dog breeder Brenda Barnette, issued a report…recommending that the Department stop spaying late-term pregnant dogs and foster them with rescuers or fosters until the puppies are eight weeks old, when they would be returned to LAAS to be adopted out for additional revenue. 

Oct 26, 2013 - Brenda Barnette's Daughter is a 'Responsible' Dog Breeder, Says Best Friends-L.A.’s Director    

Brenda Barnette’s daughter--Mary Alice Davis--was hired by Best Friends Animal Society in Los Angeles after Barnette arranged the $1-per-year giveaway of the new $19 million Northeast Valley Animal Shelter to Best Friends. (Plus, the City provides $200,000 a year in maintenance while Best Friends occupies the shelter.) 

A dog show roster dated May 23, 2013, shows Brenda Barnette and her daughter Mary Alice Davis listed as co-owners of a “Puppy Bitch” in competitions at the Southern California Portuguese Water Dog Club.                                        

When questioned about this, Marc Peralta, Director of Best Friends-LA, wrote back: “Mary Alice Davis is not an adoption coordinator, rather she is the foster care coordinator at our pet adoption center in Mission Hills….While Best Friends always advocates adoptions from shelters or rescues for those looking for a pet, we do acknowledge that there are responsible and caring breeders (with definitions attached). Mary Alice falls into the category of responsible breeders. (October 8, 2013 e-mail from Marc Peralta, Director of Best Friends-LA) 

Sept 28, 2015 - Memo to GM Barnette and LA Council: LA Animal Control Officers are at Risk ...  

On September 16, the City Council’s Personnel and Animal Welfare Committee heard a dismal report on the condition of LA Animal Services’ fleet of Animal Rescue Vehicles (ARV’s.) None of these animal-collection trucks have been replaced since 2000-2003, according to General Services Asst. GM Angela Sherick-Bright and Fleet Services Manager Richard Coulson.  

These high-mileage trucks are driven by solitary Animal Control Officers to animal-related emergencies and humane investigations, 24/7, throughout the 469 square miles of urban and rural Los Angeles. Following are a few of the alarming ARV mechanical/equipment failures that have been reported by officers...(read more)  

May 23, 2016 - LA Animal Services: Pit Bull with a Violent History Attacks Potential Adopter...  

A Pit Bull named Sammy with a prior record of repeated aggression, and who had just bitten a Los Angeles Animal Services kennel worker in the abdomen, was released on April 28, 2016, to NovaStar Rescue, at the personal instruction of LA Animal Services General Manager Brenda Barnette.  

On May 15, Los Angeles Fire Department and LAPD responded to a house near downtown LA at approximately 9 p.m., where a pit bull was attacking a woman who “was visiting the dog to determine if she wants to adopt from the rescue who had been fostering the dog.” That dog was later identified by LA Animal Services as Impound #1608123, “Sammy.” “Sammy” was alive but had been stabbed 19 times by a neighbor who heard the victim screaming.  

April 24, 2015 - LA Animal Services Removes Animal Control Officers from Harbor Shelter: Staffing Shortages or Poor Management? 

Mark Salazar, Director of Field Operations for Los Angeles Animal Services, issued a directive to the Harbor shelter staff stating, “Due to continued staffing shortages, Field Services is moving the field officers from Harbor to SLA [South Los Angeles shelter] next Monday.”  He specified, “Officers will be able to be dispatched to the Harbor shelter, if needed, but will not work from there. . .Officers should only visit the Harbor shelter if called in or to drop off impounds from the Harbor District.”  

Barnette admitted at the Budget hearing that she is not using available spay/neuter funds, licensing is low, administrative citations still are not implemented; and she gives Best Friends credit for her high “live-save” rate. 

BARNETTE’S LATEST BLUNDER – WEST VALLEY SHELTER PLAN 

Stop GM Barnette's Bullying Tactics at the West Valley Animal ... 

Aug 17, 2020 — -Los Angeles Animal Services General Manager Brenda Barnette is using bully tactics and her usual doublespeak to rush approval by City officials to reallocate/give away space at the West Valley Animal Shelter IN  Chatsworth…and "reconstitute" it as a "Community Services Center."  

This would leave the entire San Fernando Valley, which is 40% or 260 square miles of the City of Los Angeles and home to over 1.77 million residents and their pets -- with only ONE ANIMAL SHELTER, the smaller East Valley Animal Shelter in Van Nuys. 

Although Barnette says she'll consider assigning a couple of Animal Control Officers to this shelter, if they can't impound there, they would need to drive the animals to the East Valley shelter. . . 

The above are just a few of the alarming and embarrassing public 'errors' made by Brenda Barnette and Mark Salazar. It is unforgivable for taxpayers to pay for this gross mismanagement and for LA’s homeless animals to be victimized by the waste of LA Animal Services $43-million budget designated for their care.

Maybe “not being a good fit” with the current upper-management status quo at LAAS is a good thing!  

THE FALLACY OF ‘NO KILL’ 

“No Kill” applies ONLY to the shelters that declare it. It is NOT a City status! 

The reality is that animals NOT being taken in by the shelters are dying in the streets from vehicle accidents, starvation, and injury, undoubtedly in higher numbers than if they were taken into the shelters where they could be found by owners or adopted. 

The fallacy of “No Kill” in LA is that animals are being transferred out the city shelters but not necessarily to permanent homes -- with many going to “fosters”-- a temporary commitment, or even to the homeless with a tent, but no address (which is considered a “save.”)  

Many are being transferred to other states -- out of sight and out of mind -- with no local record of their ultimate outcome. But as long as LAAS does not euthanize them, even if it is advisable, they do not negatively impact the “no kill” statistics, which places shelters across the country in competition with each other under the Best Friends goal setting and is crucial to continued donor approval.  

(How often do we now hear people say they will not donate to any shelter that is NOT “no kill?” But do they really know what “no kill” means?) 

The public also does not realize that “no kill” can mean the “slow kill” of years in a cage or kennel with no hope of adoption due to the animal having proven it is dangerous to humans or other animals. 

See: Best Friends Animal Society in Dog Fight over Shock Collars.) 

Another tool of “No Kill” is not taking in animals, as strangers who find lost pets and strays are encouraged to keep them. 

Or, in many instances, they are being released to a “rescue” that may, or may not, be a hoarder, too often be transferred or transported to an unknown destination and fate. (“Rescues” are tax-exempt business operations, often in private homes, with no prerequisites or background checks required, no City or State licensing or bonding, no required inspections, and no oversight, monitoring or limits on the amount charged for an animal. While some are very caring and responsible about the animals in their care, the public needs to be aware that there are no standards for experience or animal handling nor for the level of care provided or the contracts used in the transfer of an animal.) 

Adopters at LA Animal Services are given a 30-60-minute appointment to meet a pet  they have only seen in an on-line photo and decide that this is a pet that will be safe and suitable with their family. LAAS also  encourages pet owners to find another home for an unwanted animal -- perhaps on Craigslist--rather than bringing it to the shelter. 

‘NO KILL’ IS A SHELL GAME 

“No Kill” is a shell game -- not a solution and is designed to manipulate the shelter’s “live-save” rate to reach a calculation that is superior to competing shelters and, thus, grab the gold ring (major donations from large organizations, which may also involve  some kind of subtle reciprocal cooperation or favor.) 

When was the last objective nationwide survey to report exactly what happened to the thousands of annual transported pets? The last photo we see is stacked cages being crammed into a plane or truck. 

WHAT’S THE IMMEDIATE FUTURE FOR LA? 

Mayor Eric Garcetti has chosen Dana Brown, former Assistant General Manager of LAAS, as the Interim GM. Ms. Brown is a longtime City employee with a comprehensive understanding of employment issues and City administration. It is also important to all of us that the Mayor included in his description of the GM position that it, “. . .bears responsibility for keeping shelters in compliance with state and city regulations.” 

But so much damage has been done to the internal structure of Los Angeles Animal Services that it needs at its helm soon an experienced expert in humane and safe sheltering for animals, safe employment conditions for employees and enforcing laws that have been ignored or re-interpreted for a decade by Brenda Barnette. It will also require someone with the heart to understand the suffering that has resulted.

 

(Phyllis M. Daugherty is a former City of Los Angeles employee and a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.