Another L.A. Animal Services chief quits

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2009:

LOS ANGELES–Ed Boks, general manager of the Los Angeles
Department of Animal Services since December 2005, on April 24 2009
advised Los Angeles mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa that he will
resign, effective on June 30.
Boks was ousted from his previous position as executive
director of the New York City Center for Animal Care & Control after
entertaining an offer from Los Angeles.
“I have an offer I’m considering and a couple of options I’m
thinking about,” Boks told ANIMAL PEOPLE on April 27, “but for the
next week or two I just want to free myself from Los Angeles’
relentless irrational oppressive nonsense.”
Boks, 57, was the fourth Los Angeles Department of Animal
Services chief to leave since 2003. The late Dan Knapp resigned
after a prolonged sick leave he attributed to job stress. His
successor, Jerry Greenwalt, retired after enduring months of
intense online criticism and demonstrations outside his home. Boks’
immediate predecessor, Guerdon Stuckey, was fired by Villaraigosa
after just 13 tumultuous months on the job, only days after
Villaraigosa took office. Villaraigosa had promised to replace
Stuckey during the mayoral election campaign, and had reportedly
hired Boks even before terminating Stuckey.

“Boks will be off through the end of May on vacation and
medical leave as he recovers from a recent heart procedure,”
reported Los Angeles Daily News staff writer Rick Orlov. “He will
work beginning June 1 to assist in the transition” to an as yet
unchosen successor. “In the meantime,” wrote Orlov, “he
designated assistant director Katy Davis as interim director. Aides
to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said there was no buyout deal offered
to Boks, who became the center of a political firestorm in recent
Los Angeles city council members Dennis Zine and Richard
Alarcon pushed for Boks’ resignation after Boks in March 2009
responded to a two-year series of budget cuts totaling $714,000 by
suspending distribution of coupons redeemable for low-cost pet
sterilization. This was among Animal Services’ most popular
programs, especially since the 2008 passage of a bylaw requiring
city residents to sterilize dogs and cats by four months of age, or
buy costly intact pet permit.
“From 1972 to 2008, 479,269 cost-assisted pet sterilizations
were performed under various Los Angeles programs,” recalled Animal
Issues Movement founder Phyllis Daugherty. “This reduced animal
impounds from 83,500 to 25,478,” and cut shelter killing from
110,000 animals to 18,000.
After furor erupted over the suspension of the coupon
program, Los Angeles city councillor Tony Cardenas introduced a
motion to restore the sterilization budget, seconded by Dennis Zine.
The coupon program resumed within days, but much of the council was
furious at having been manipulated by Boks’ appeal to the court of
public opinion. The council passed a resolution of “no confidence”
in Boks in late March, and followed with a resolution asking mayor
Villaraigosa to request Boks’ resignation.
The council action came a year after the leaders of two labor
unions representing Animal Services staff in March 2008 delivered to
Villaigarosa a petition seeking Boks’ dismissal and the dismissal of
Animal Services assistant general manager Linda Barth. More than half
of the Animal Services staff–149 people–had in 2005 signed a
petition opposing Stuckey’s dismissal and Boks’ appointment. The new
petition “was signed by 30 of 32 animal care supervisors and 105 of
216 animal control officers and animal care technicians,” reported
Los Angeles Times staff writer Carla Hall. “The unions do not
represent shelter clerical workers or registered veterinary
technicians, though some of those workers provided additional
Failing to get results from Villairarosa, who had the sole
authority to hire and fire Boks, the unions took the petition to the
city council in September 2008.
Boks upon arrival in Los Angeles built high expectations that
he would move the city to no-kill animal control, much as he built
expectations earlier in New York City and in his previous post as
director of Maricopa County Animal Control in Phoenix. In all three
positions Boks reduced animal population control killing and
increased adoptions. The rate of shelter killing in Maricopa County
fell from 20.3 to 16.0 dogs and cats per 1,000 residents during Boks’
tenure , and five years after he left has dropped only slightly
more, to 15.5. The New York City rate fell from about 4.0 to 2.6.
The Los Angeles city rate edged down from 3.9 to 3.7. But Maricopa
County, though achieving a slightly lower than average killing rate
for the region, is still killing substantially more dogs and cats
than the U.S. average of 13.8. New York City and Los Angeles already
had two of the lowest killing rates in the U.S., and achieving
steeper reductions than Boks’ predecessors had, while coping with
shelter intake consisting largely of pit bull terriers and feral cats
on the one hand, and steep budget cuts on the other, may have been
an unrealistic goal.
At departure, Boks seemed to be best remembered by local
media for ambitious fiascos. Boks scheduled a “Hooters for Neuters”
promotion in July 2006, for example, modeled after others that have
been hugely successful in more conservative regions– but the Los
Angeles edition was axed as allegedly sexist, under pressure from
city hall.
In July 2007, noting that his agency had killed 2,442 pit
bull terriers in the preceding fiscal year, Boks announced a
proposal to turn the South Los Angeles Animal Care Center Annex into
a “pit bull academy,” headed by Villalobos Rescue Center founder Tia
Marie Torres. Like the Villalobos Rescue Center, the “pit bull
academy” was to employ paroled convicts. First the Animal Services
unions objected that hiring parolees would bypass the civil service
employment protocol. Then Torres told a reporter that she bought a
defunct Nevada brothel in hopes of reopening it. Again Boks’ idea
came to nothing.
Boks also ran afoul of at least two wrongful dismissal
lawsuits, both aggressively publicized on the web by his critics.
The older case, brought by former CACC operations director Wesley
Artope, followed Boks from New York City. Boks dismissed Artope, a
10-year CACC employee, in January 2004. Artope was the highest
ranking African-American at the CACC. He now heads the J. Tyler
Animal Foundation. The other case was brought by Los Angeles
wildlife rehabilitator Mary Cummins, a former Los Angeles Animal
Services staff member. Both cases were still unsettled as ANIMAL
PEOPLE went to press, but the Los Angeles city council was
reportedly close to finalizing a settlement of the Cummins case.
Boks said the Arthope and Cummins cases were not involved in his
decision to leave Los Angeles.
Boks’ biggest tangible achievement in Los Angeles may have
been opening six new shelters. But his most influential
accomplishment, now emulated by counterparts in other cities, was
making extensive use of electronic media to become one of the most
accessible and communicative animal control directors anywhere.
“Unlike a long string of embattled predecessors, Ed Boks
came out swinging,” recalled Dana Bartholomew of the Los Angeles
Daily News. “He fired up a blog, hit the radio, locked horns with
critics, and waded deep into mud slung at him and his department.”
“If you don’t blow your own horn, someone’s going to use it
as a spittoon,” Boks said.

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