Tuesday, May 14, 2013

New Castle County - Conflict of Interest

Today, an audit was disbursed by New Castle County regarding the Kent County SPCA contract with that county. What is most concerning about this audit is WHO made the decision to pursue the audit and it's scope, and the fact that the audit focused on CAPA so vehemently, especially considering that CAPA is under state code, not county code.

New Castle County Auditor - Robert Wasserbach

First I'll address who the New Castle County Auditor is and how his relationship to another shelter is clearly relevant.  Robert Wasserbach is not only the county auditor for New Castle County, he was previously the Treasurer on the Board of Directors for Faithful Friends, and is now the President of their board.  While Mr. Wasserbach did recuse himself from active participation in the audit, he did not recuse himself from initiating the audit and it's scope, which is clearly a conflict of interest in my opinion.
"Because I sit on the Board of Directors of another Delaware animal shelter, I have decided to
recuse myself from participating on this audit. In a letter to the NCC Audit Committee, I have
formally recused myself and, thus, Mr. Scannell's work will be reviewed by the Chairperson of
the Committee and not by me."  - Robert Wasserbach's Notification Letter To Kent County SPCA on June 14, 2012 that audit would be performed.

This is especially concerning given the fact that this audit was being performed around the same time the KCSPCA stopped transferring animals to Faithful Friends due to nonpayment of transfer fees, and the letter above was only 2 days after the article called "No-Kill Shelter Hopes To Kill Competition" that was written about Safe Haven (who Faithful Friends Director had defended in the Cape Gazette just months earlier) regarding their aspirations for dog control contracts, and a week after Kent County said they weren't responsible for CAPA and it was clear that the contract for dog control in our county would not be handled by KCSPCA.

While the complaint trough thinks the audit is fodder for the press, I think it is as well.  The difference is that I think the press will be more interested in both the timing and the conflict of interest aspect. Especially give the fact that Faithful Friend's last 2 financial statements under Mr. Wasserbach's leadership as treasurer weren't completed until over a year after their fiscal year ends, which would make someone wonder what kind of operational issues precipitated such a ridiculous delay.  Also the fact that Faithful Friends net assets dropped from $213,295 to $34,288 during the last 3 reported years thru 6/30/11, which makes one wonder about Mr. Wasserbach's financial leadership.

Considering the current County Executive Tom Gordon's previous issues with the law, one would hope that he would recommend to the council to avoid situations like this where there is clearly a motive outside of county business to pursue an audit that didn't focus on whether the KCSPCA is picking up at-large dogs per the terms of their contract, or ensuring the dogs are housed in a safe and healthy environment, but instead focuses on a state law that Faithful Friends Executive Director Jane Pierantozzi spearheaded.

I don't doubt that the KCSPCA was less than patient or forthcoming with the audit process.  Keep in mind that the shelter had already incurred costs for pulling documents and the time killer of addressing the same complaints that had already been addressed through Kent County, the State Attorney General office, the Department of Agriculture, and the Governor's office.  So I can imagine patience was wearing thin at being asked to pull some of the same documents for the 4th or 5th time.  And keep in mind that many of these complaints also went to journalists throughout the state who have also disregarded their veracity.

So I'll let the readers use their own judgment and consider that the only 2 people that have given these complaints any credence are the NCC Auditor who clearly has a conflict of interest as the Board President of the shelter that pushed for CAPA, and the Kent County Commissioner who made the following statement online after photos of the emaciated dogs that were being warehoused at kennels by Safe Haven came to light.
"Ms. Gryczon was the Executive Director of Safe Haven.  She has been the victim of many slanderous remarks and she refused to defend herself.  But, regardless of the comments here, the contract for Kent County Dog Control is with Safe Haven, not Anne Gryczon, and that contract will continue.  As a supporter of no kill, Ms. Gryczon has started a movement in Delaware that should continue to grow.  The killing of dogs at a rate of 20-30 per day, some off the books, some that are killed in less than 24 hours on the say so of the SPCA Leadership, has got to stop!  Maybe now the Board of Trustees at the SPCA will grow a backbone and rid us of the real danger that is ACTUALLY killing dogs in this State!" - Jody Sweeney

The Scope

Audits regularly look at other regulatory areas concerning a business, but they don't perform the audit outside of their own scope.  For example, I can't imagine Astra Zeneca would be cooperative if the SEC were to perform an audit of their FDA processes.  In that case the SEC may check with the FDA to see whether the company is in compliance with FDA requirements, but that is the extent of the scope.  Another example would be a bank auditor who extended it's audit to the processes surrounding the public trading of the bank's stock which falls under the SEC.  Again, the bank auditor might for some reason make an inquiry to the other agency, but they are not going to audit those processes directly, especially given the fact that the complaints have already been addressed and discounted by others.  As such, it's ludicrous that the New Castle County audit focuses almost entirely on CAPA and euthanasia, which falls under state oversight.

Note that Mr. Wasserbach's original letter didn't mention CAPA, even though it eventually became the focal point of the audit, nor was it included in the auditor's original outline.  So given a typical audit does not typically venture into areas that other agencies have oversight, this is worth noting.

In fact the auditor's outline notes requesting a "Recent report of what is sent to the DE Department of Agriculture", and despite that, there is not mention of that in the audit, or whether the auditor contacted that agency or the state Attorney General given the fact that state law falls under their purview, much like the examples in the previous paragraph. As such, I have to wonder if the fact that the auditor found the kennels clean upon their surprise inspection is what precipitated the change in the scope of the audit.  Especially since the complainers have questioned the judgment of the Secretary of Agriculture when he also noted that the Kent County SPCA was clean after a surprise inspection.  In both cases, the KCSPCA has been the only shelter subjected to surprise inspections throughout the state.

Given the County Auditor's relationship with Faithful Friends, and an audit that is well outside of the scope of ensuring that New Castle County taxpayers are getting the services they paid for, the independence of the audit is questionable at best.

One thing that should concern New Castle County residents is the fact that many of the actual complaints being made were by Kent County residents.  As the audit noted, some complaints were also outside of the scope of the county.  So it would be curious to know whether New Castle County tax dollars were spent on an audit that pertained primarily to Kent County residents shopping their complaints around to everyone under the sun. It's definitely something New Castle County Council members should look into.
"The County Auditor's Office received a series of complaints, starting in September 2010, from NCCo and Kent County residents regarding the treatment of dogs at KCSPCA and, thus, possible violations of the NCCo-KCSPCA contract." - Audit Report
Lastly, it's also worth noting that the audit was initiated in June 2012.  Yet the county earlier this year renewed their contract with KCSPCA for another year.  So despite the claims of deficiencies under CAPA by the New Castle County audit, the county still felt comfortable in extending their contract for another year.  It definitely makes me question whether the audit was performed on the behalf of New Castle County taxpayers, or whether it was merely to satisfy leadership of the No-Kill shelter that brought us CAPA.