Pell City starts contract negotiations with ASPCI
by David Atchison
PELL CITY – City officials met with Animal Shelter of Pell City, Inc., representatives Thursday to begin contract negotiations for housing stray animals for the city.

Mayor Joe Funderburg said the city’s contract with the animal shelter, which operates out of a joint city/county government facility, has not been renegotiated since 2002.

City Manager Patrick Draper said the contract is renewed 60 days prior to the October expiration date of the contract.

Officials say the city provides about $25,000 annually of the public’s funds to temporarily house animals picked up by the city’s animal control officer.

Other St. Clair County cities and the St. Clair County Commission have contracts with the animal shelter, but Pell City contributes the most funds of any government entity in St. Clair County.

At Thursday morning’s meeting, Funderburg told representatives of the Pell City Animal Shelter, the city must account for all public funds the city expends, and the shelter needs to have an annual audit to show how city funds are spent.

“That’s just good business,” Funderburg said.

Shelter officials said Thursday the animal shelter has never had an audit, because it is too costly.

But city officials insisted that an audit is completed annually.

“It’s like writing a check, and you don’t know how much money is in the bank,” Funderburg said.

Shelter officials said their accountant recommended not spending funds for annual audits.

Shelter officials said an audit would cost about $10,000.

Draper said the cost of an annual audit expense needs to be included or factored in as part of contract agreements with all entities the animal shelter supports.

“It needs to be factor into your proposals, so cities can see how there money is being spent,” he said.

Funderburg said an audit is just a part of public accountability.

“This is something we all need to be concerned about,” Funderburg said.

The mayor also suggested the Animal Shelter of Pell City Inc. open all board meetings to the public, since the shelter depends on public funds for operating expenses.

Funderburg has been an advocate of open government and government transparency since taking office last year.

Shelter officials said since the Animal Shelter of Pell City Inc. is not a government agency but a private nonprofit, the animal shelter is not subject to the state’s open meeting laws.

Barber Wallace, president of ASPI, said discussions about the animal shelter’s business operation and personnel issues should be discussed among the board, not in public.

Funderburg said although the animal shelter is not required to operate in accordance with the state’s open meetings law, the public could have the perception the board is not being transparent.

“Nobody is trying to say you are doing anything wrong,” he said. “I’m certainly not here to pick a fight.”

But Funderburg said the board needs to be more transparent.

“I want our administration to be transparent,” he said.

Wallace said only a small percentage of the shelter’s money comes from government entities.

She said about 30 percent of the shelter’s funding comes from government entities, about 50 percent of shelter funds come from adoption fees and about 20 percent of the shelter’s money comes from private donations and grants.

John Rea, the city attorney, formally requested the animal shelter provide the city with copies of all shelter policies and procedures.

Rea said according to the current contract, the city is entitled to all documents it requests from the nonprofit agency.

Funderburg said since taking office he has personally received five calls concerning the animal shelter, including two calls from out-of-state, so city officials need to know all shelter policies and procedures.

Both parties agreed that emotions run high when dealing with animals.

“One area obviously, we don’t feel like we’re in touched with what is going on (at the shelter),” he said. “We want to close the communication gap.”

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© 2013