After four members of the Killeen Animal Advisory Committee resigned on Tuesday to protest what they believe to be a culture of apathy among city officials, Councilman Ken Wilkerson said the differences of opinion between the municipal government and the volunteer board are “complex.”
“A lot of things we’ve talked about in the past with different members in their meetings sound like good ideas,” he said. “But a lot of times, they don’t work, in staff’s opinion. And when staff comes back and says we are not going to pursue that, the advisory committee feels frustrated.”
Vice-chair Linda Marzi has been on the committee for six years. She and Shirley Del Conte, Vicky Duke and Anca Neagu tendered their resignations during the public-comment period of a Killeen City Council meeting.
“There was disrespect, bullying and abuse of power from Killeen city staff towards Killeen Animal Advisory Committee members,” Marzi told the Herald. “I believe that it was a great number of things over time that finally led the members … to resign. We had enough of these situations always happening, and we felt that after all this time, nothing had been achieved, such as a foster program, bully dog program, working cat program, no-kill shelter program. There was just too much killing of the shelter animals.”
The euthanasia rate was central to the members’ resignations, with Marzi repeatedly criticizing the city for “killing animals for space” and Del Conte offering a more severe response.
“I believe there’s a special place in hell for those who choose to mistreat and even kill healthy animals while trying to justify what they do,” she said during the meeting. “I finally realized recently that nothing is going to change.”
When it comes to reducing the euthanasia rate to the point the shelter becomes a no-kill facility, Wilkerson said that is an issue he supports.
“I agree with them on this,” he told the Herald. “I would love to get to a no-kill shelter. Who wants to just kill animals? That’s just psychotic. It’s not like we are not working. There’s definitely not people on the committee who want to see that we are killing animals because we don’t have any room for them. It’s kind of complex and I can understand the situation.”
Advocates generally accept that 90% of shelter animals must be released to become a no-kill shelter. According to figures provided by the city, from 2017 to 2021, 3,275 animals have been euthanized at the Killeen Animal Shelter. From Jan. 1 through Sept. 16 this year, another 880 animals have been euthanized, according to the city.
“We have seen a significant increase in the number of animals arriving at the shelter this year, with owner surrender rates nearly doubling,” according to an email from city spokeswoman Janell Ford. “Our adoptions and fosters have also increased this year, but not enough to account for the additional intake of animals. As a result of these factors, euthanasia numbers have also increased. The significant increase of animal intake in the shelter is a nationwide problem.
In Killeen, animal shelter kill numbers have soared over recent years. The 880 animals killed so far this year is already well above the 603 total deaths in 2021, and more than doubled the 2020 amount of 412. The city’s animal shelter, 3118 Commerce Drive, has space for 144 animals.
Ford, unlike Wilkerson, attributed the resignations to the process by which Animal Advisory Committee members are appointed.
“The complaints leading up to the resignations were focused on frustrations about term limits on the city’s boards and commissions,” Ford said in the email.
However, none of the women who resigned on Tuesday mentioned concerns about term limits, and they did not include them in subsequent emails to the newspaper last week.
“I have been on the Animal Advisory Committee since April of last year,” Neagu said. “Time to communicate with shelter management was very limited while I was on the committee because of the absence of the shelter manager on most of the meetings I was a part of. Shortly after I was appointed to the committee, we were instructed by the assistant city manager that all communication between committee members and shelter staff has to go through the manager’s office. This made it extremely difficult for me to communicate with shelter management for most of the time I was on the committee.”
Danielle Singh is assistant city manager.
‘Understanding the processes’
“Maybe there is not enough staff to pull off the programs or resources don’t add up,” Wilkerson said. “Obviously, (committee members) have been told, ‘No,’ quite a bit. They are passionate people who love animals. They just throw themselves at the work, and that’s good. But sometimes, it’s about understanding the processes that have to be gone through and using state policies.”
The Texas Health and Safety Code requires that counties and municipalities with animal shelters must form advisory committees that include at least one veterinarian, one county or municipal official, one person “whose duties include the daily operations of an animal shelter and one representative from an animal welfare organization.”
The members of such committees are also required to meet at least three times a year, according to state law.
“When the Killeen City Council had appointed the Killeen Animal Advisory Committee to review and update Chapter 6 of (city ordinances), the city staff member refused to permit another city staff member under their jurisdiction to attend our monthly meetings,” Marzi said. “The absence of city staff member made it impossible to communicate information the committee needed to have successful meetings.”
‘Made it very difficult’
Neagu confirmed that allegation.
“Because of the confusion regarding what we are allowed to do, it also made it very difficult to visit the shelter,” she said. “The shelter manager (with the animal services supervisor) finally attended the committee meetings again in the fall. At that meeting, I tried to ask them questions, however, the assistant city manager called a point of order and instructed us not to address the shelter staff directly. This added to the confusion. Why wouldn’t committee members be allowed to address shelter staff directly?”
Subcommittee members — Wilkerson and Councilman Riakos Adams — appoint the Animal Advisory Committee members. Ford said that before Tuesday’s and other resignations, and appointments, the committee included Marzi, Duke, Del Conte, Neagu, Sue Cummings, Dr. Michael Joyner, Dr. Pat Davis, Janice Holladay, Monique Brand, Jessica Green and Singh.
Green is the shelter manager. Cummings, Holladay, Singh, Green and Brand remain on the committee.
“There were a total of 11 committee members, with eight committee members serving terms that would have expired on October 1,” Ford said.
Marzi’s term was among those set to expire.
“My recommendation would have been to have Marzi stay on for another term,” Wilkerson said. “It is the only committee she serves on.”
But Wilkerson qualified his remarks.
“Last year, we had talked about the need to … give other people an opportunity to serve on committees they are passionate about,” he said. “We established term limits. Unless he or she is needed, such as a vet who is very knowledgeable, and we don’t have another vet apply for that position, we can do an exemption to allow that person to stay on.”
Although Marzi isn’t a vet, her experience on the committee and the absence of qualified applicants to fill positions — open or expiring — made her eligible to continue serving.
‘She was really good’
“Due to a lack of applications, we will let that person serve,” Wilkerson said. “After six years, you term out, just like a council member. We agreed on rules we decided we would follow on whether to extend somebody past that term. She was really good and if she had not resigned, there’s a good chance she would be re-appointed anyway.”
Wilkerson said that committee members often became “offended” when he told them their roles are advisory only.
“It doesn’t mean that when you say something it’s going to happen. So they are frustrated they are not seeing the movement they want to see. While you want to be responsive to citizens and let them feel like they are part of the process… I don’t foresee it as a major undertaking. I don’t think that anybody necessarily was done wrong.
Marzi doesn’t feel the same way. In an email to the Herald, she listed many grievances from the way committee meetings are conducted to intimidation by city staff members to deplorable conditions at the shelter. She also listed more than two dozen programs the committee recommended but were not implemented by the city — namely a foster program.
“On the part of the city staff towards the committee, there was too much lack of respect, lack of communication, lack of trust, lack of interest, too many politics, too many ‘power trips’ by city staff, bullying, no positive programs being implemented at the shelter to save animal lives (and) many more problems,” Marzi said.
Ford countered that the city does have a foster program.
“The committee has often discussed helping with the foster program, but there have been no actions taken by the committee to move forward with any additional … program.”
In the city’s fiscal year 2022-23 budget, the animal services stated “mission” is to install shade structures for the dog play yards, reach a 47% rate of spay/neuter before adoptions, add another row of 12 kennels by the stray building , increase rate of adoptions at Petco stores and adoption events to 400 animals, continue to track and align with live release rate (of) 90% (and) continue to create and develop a sustainable presence through social media.”
The budget for the city’s animal services next fiscal year is about $2.2 million, which includes funding of operations at Fort Hood, through a governmental services agreement.