The Daily News, Monday, July 27, 1998
Agency's hush pay blasted
Pet shelter's offer
by Lisa Rein
Daily News Staff Writer
Former employees critical of the city's troubled animal control agency were offered thousands of tax dollars not to talk about its day-to-day operations, the Daily News has learned.
Three of four workers offered the confidentiality agreements -- some worth up to $3,000 by the Center for Animal Care and Control called them an attempt to bury tales of mismanagement and excessive killing of strays in the city's animal shelters.
None of the three signed.
Adoption chief Alton Allen, fired May 12, called the $1,700 he was offered a "bribe."
"It's sad they would think I was so stupid I would waive all my rights," Allen said.
Two other fired employees said they wouldn't sell their silence.
"What could I possibly share with anyone, except what I saw for myself, which are horrendous conditions," said Sandra Batalla, former office manager in Brooklyn. Batalla, transferred to Brooklyn last year from her post as coordinator of shelter volunteers, said she frequently questioned CACC brass about why they abruptly halted the volunteer program, which brought animal lovers into the shelters to exercise dogs awaiting adoption.
The employees were fired over the last two months.
Former press secretary Faith Elliott was dismissed after voicing her concerns that the agency's top brass were covering up negligence in the death of an ailing peregrine falcon that starved in the agency's care, sources said.
A highly critical state report issued last month said the agency did nothing to save the bird.
Elliott, on the advice of her lawyer, declined comment.
Two members of the center's seven-member board of directors -- which was not told of the payoffs -- blasted them as inappropriate.
"Since we're not trying to protect trade secrets, we shouldn't be doing this," said board member Todd Davis, an attorney.
The CACC has been beset by controversy since the city created it three years ago. A City Council investigation last year found fiscal and management problems, enormous staff turnovers and the highest euthanasia rate in the country.
The Daily News has reported on hefty fees the agency charges to owners recovering lost pets that aren't spayed or neutered and sloppy recordkeeping that sent a Bronx woman's dog to its death last spring.
The agency defended the secrecy offers, saying an organization's internal communications are private.
Asked what information the agency wants to safeguard, spokesman Kyle Burkhart cited "information pertaining to construction matters" and the shelters' costs for dog food and cat litter.
"That's information we don't want out there," he said.
The CACC is incorporated as a nonprofit charity but functions as a city agency. Its $5.7 million budget is funded by the Health Department, and its board of directors and top officials are appointed by Mayor Giuliani.
Fund-raising is minimal.
Responding to a lawsuit from advocacy groups, the agency this year agreed to open its records to Freedom of Information laws and its meetings to the public.