ANIMAL WATCH-On March 27, just days after the announcement by Best Friends Animal Society that Los Angeles had reached the organization’s mythical “No Kill” goal, a post appeared on LA Animal Services GM Brenda Barnette’s Facebook page, announcing that she is retiring from her position with the City.
Not surprisingly, she leaves animal shelters filled with behaviorally challenged Pit Bulls and other aggressive dogs that have been kenneled for inexcusably long impound periods, and a safety profile which includes a record number of attacks by adopted dogs and horrific bites to employees and visitors at LAAS shelters (rising annually until this year, when City shelters have been closed to the public.)
BRENDA PRAISES HER OWN PERFORMANCE
In the next few weeks, we will review Brenda’s past record on CityWatch, from the beginning of her tenure. But, for now, here’s Barnette’s tribute to her own performance:
Dear LAAS Team:
It is with very mixed feelings that I am letting you know I have given my retirement notice to the Mayor. It isn’t immediate. I will be here until early May.
Over the past 10+ years I have watched you develop into a staff I am so proud to know and to have worked with. As many of you know, before I was hired, there had been 7 general managers in the previous 10 years. That must have been very difficult for you.
Together we have had incredible accomplishments that would not have been possible without your hard work and dedication. I will document some of these accomplishments before I leave. I want to recognize and acknowledge your many successes.
Thank YOU for being a creative and resilient Team. You have kept the community safe, you have made major strides in life-saving and you are serving our community well. I am honored to have been able to call you co-workers and the Best Team Ever!
BARNETTE’S DEPARTURE CHEERED
Barnette’s post immediately brought cheers and jubilation from many rescuers, past (and present) volunteers, critics, and LAAS employees, who have watched Barnette’s methodical destruction what was once considered one of the most professional and best-trained animal control departments in the U.S.
This announcement comes after a notable decline in Barnette’s preparedness at Commission meetings, where her Assistant General Managers have publicly corrected her on key issues several times.
She also is facing continued criticism -- among other concerns -- of a floundering phone system (after years of alleged correction) which results in long delays in response times and service, and a recent reported series of grievances by the SEIU on behalf of employees and supervisors.
BARNETTE NOT THE ONLY ONE LEAVING LAAS
Barnette does not have much of a Department to leave and is more or less abandoning the proverbial “sinking ship.” There was a mass exodus of very competent and experienced Animal Control Officers to other City departments within the past two years.
Catherine Chico, Senior Management Analyst II, who serves as the LAAS Chief Financial Officer, announced at last week’s Commission meeting that this would be her last appearance before retirement and indicated there will be only one analyst left in the department.
Reliable sources say that Assistant General Manager Tammy Watson (with many years of Personnel experience) will be leaving in May also, although there has been no public announcement.
Many members of the long-time senior clerical staff in the shelters -- the backbone of any animal control agency -- have already departed or will soon, due to the City’s recent enhanced retirement options and, additionally, due to a lack of job satisfaction.
The impact of these collective losses has not been considered at Commission meetings, nor has Barnette discussed how this will affect future services to animals and residents of LA.
However, Barnette proudly boasts that the Department has three Media/Public Relations Specialists.
Her latest failed effort was to “reconstitute” the West Valley Animal Shelter into a Citizens’ Service Center and rent out space to private “rescuers” and leave 40% of the San Fernando Valley without a facility for which it pays taxes and is still paying the Prop “F” bond funding.
That came to an abrupt, unexplained halt after a CityWatch article, LAAS GM Barnette's Plan For West Valley Shelter 'Handled By Vendors' Faces Legal Questions which may -- or may not -- have influenced the final decision.
So now we await the official media release by Mayor Eric Garcetti or Councilman Paul Koretz, who have profusely praised Barnette’s performance until recently. Perhaps that will follow.
LA NEEDS SOMEONE SUITED FOR THE JOB
Barnette had no animal control experience prior to being hired for this position by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Councilman Paul Koretz. She was head of a small humane society, an AKC legislative liaison and a “former” dog breeder. (Barnette and Best Friends Animal Society admitted that her daughter was still active in dog breeding.)
Koretz’ then made a quick shift of LA Animal Services out of the Council’s Public Safety Committee oversight and put it under his contrived Personnel and Animal Welfare Committee, which resulted in decreasing law enforcement and destroying basic animal limits and zoning safety to promote programs of large, affluent humane groups.
Barnette has been increasingly focused on fundraising and political activity, including on Facebook during timeframes when she should logically have been on the clock.
OUT OF THE SHAMBLES?
We will soon see the results of the first breeding season after the COVID pandemic, when free or discounted animals were thrust by LAAS into the hands of the homeless, inexperienced owners and fosters, and found pets were encouraged to be kept by strangers.
This was followed by an alarming celebration of “National Puppy Day” last week. There have been no recent spay/neuter or licensing campaigns and many new owners will not realize how young and quickly animals reproduce.
The impact of the absence of animal control vehicles patrolling communities and enforcement of basic Los Angeles and California laws (including licensing/rabies control) and Barnette’s dangerous failure to support and protect her officers is becoming parent.
The Mayor and City Council must focus their effort on choosing professional, experienced, and knowledgeable leadership -- not political compliance and encouragement of unproven “community sheltering” programs that leave animals in the streets.
It is time to rebuild and restore Los Angeles Animal Services as a strong safety unit and support for all Angelenos, pets, strays, unwanted animals, and injured wildlife -- from the shambles GM Brenda Barnette is leaving behind.
(Phyllis M. Daugherty is a former City of Los Angeles employee and a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.