Attorney general investigates Connecticut Humane; 20-year president resigns

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2010:

HARTFORD–Investigating the management of the Connecticut
Humane Society since January 2010, Connecticut attorney general
Richard Blumenthal on March 30, 2010 released preliminary findings
that were highly critical of how the society was managed during the
20-year tenure of former Connect-icut Humane president Richard
Johnston, who resigned on March 23.
But Blumenthal did not find evidence of criminal wrongdoing.
“The investigation has focused primarily on Connecticut
Humane’s alleged misuse of charitable funds, but touches on several
other issues,” Blumenthal’s office said in a prepared statement.
“The investigation continues, particularly with respect to the
handling of charitable funds and allegations of improper treatment of
animals,” the statement added.

Stamford Advocate assistant city editor Angela Carella
recalled that “Johnston came under fire when he closed the
78-year-old Stamford shelter in 1998. Saying the shelter did not
handle enough animals, Johnston sold the site to a housing
developer. Condominiums there now sell for $800,000 to $1 million
But Blumenthal found “no evidence that anyone connected with
Connecticut Humane received any compensation in connection with the
sale of the society’s Stamford property.” Blumenthal also found no
evidence that Johnston, a real estate attorney, made any other
improper use of society real estate.
Blumenthal found that “For the years 2005, 2006, and 2007,
related party transactions,” as legally defined, “made up between
3.3% and 5.2% of the Connecticut Humane Society’s budget expenses,”
or from $175,000 to $258,000 per year. Persons involved in related
party transactions recused themselves from voting, when they came
before the board, and “the accounting firm of Blum-Shapiro stated
that for the related party transactions “the amount charged is
reasonable and was less than or equal to fair market value,”
Blumenthal summarized.
“Nevertheless,” Blumenthal suggested, “the frequency and
amount of related party transactions threatens the integrity and
reputation of the Connecticut Humane Society, and underscores the
need to strengthen conflict of interest protocols.”
Blumenthal found that the Connecticut Humane Society “has
designated more than $46 million of its unrestricted fund balance of
$52 million as belonging to a board-designated quasi-endowment fund,”
and that the board “adopted a policy to add legacy, estate, and
other non-recurring gifts and/or income” to the quasi-endowment fund.
The spending restrictions creating the fund, “which now
apply to fully 88% of the society’s total unrestricted net assets and
about 67% of the society’s total net assets, appear to be excessive,
and threatens to deprive the society of resources to adequately
conduct its core animal care and protection functions,” Blumenthal
The Connecticut attorney general’s office “has received
numerous and, in some instances, credible complaints describing a
pervasively dysfunctional culture and serious acts of managerial
misconduct,” Blumenthal said. “Many of these reports involve
Richard Johnston, who served as both the president of Connecticut
Humane and as the chair of its board of directors. This arrangement
unnecessarily concentrated authority and control of Connecticut
Humane in one person.”
In addition, Blumenthal wrote, his office had received
written allegations that Johnston “unfairly fired and placed on
probation individuals who participated in unionization. These
allegations will be referred to the National Labor Relations Board,”
which has the relevant legal jurisdiction.
The Blumenthal report was released about a month after the
federal Occupational Safety & Health Administration fined the
Connecticut Humane Society $6,800 for failing to correct 10 workplace
safety violations.
Wrote Carella of the Stamford Advocate, “Johnston
understaffed the shelters, failed to promote the services offered by
the society, underpaid and undertrained employees, destroyed too
many animals and did little to find them homes, critics said.”
In fact, the Connecticut Humane Society had the lowest rate
of shelter killing during Johnston’s tenure of any major U.S. humane
society that was not explicitly no-kill, and the entire state of
Connecticut has had the lowest rate of shelter killing of any U.S.
state. This is in part because many Connecticut animal control
agencies do not pick up cats, and also in part because other
Connecticut humane organizations developed several of the first and
largest feral cat neuter/return programs in the U.S. In addition,
Connecticut rescue groups were the first in the U.S. to make
extensive use of web sites to rehome animals.
However, Johnston kept a pledge he made upon becoming
president to reduce shelter killing, and appears also to have kept a
pledge to avoid investments in companies that do substantial amounts
of animal testing when alternatives are available.
Johnston became president of Connecticut Humane, after four
years of board service, after publication of similar criticisms of
his predecessor, Gus Hellberg. Hellberg, whose background was in
juvenile law enforcement, had presided over the transition of
Connecticut Humane to providing only animal services and humane
education, after providing both animal and child protection services
since 1881. Connecticut Humane also phased out most humane law
enforcement work toward the end of of Hellberg’s tenure.
New Connecticut Humane board president Christopher White told
media that selecting a new chief executive would probably take four
to six months.

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