February 27, 2012; Source: The Press Democrat
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NPQ has written many newswires over this past year (for instance, see here) about the public’s increasing expectations for transparency and even engagement in decision-making where nonprofits are concerned. But the Healdsburg Animal Shelter in Healdsburg, Calif. has ignored that trend, requesting that not only their staff, but also their 100 volunteers, not talk to the press. Local Mayor Gary Plass put the furor this move has created simply but profoundly: “When you start closing the community off, they become suspicious. It’s not healthy for the community, or the organization.” As the executive director refused interviews, City Councilwoman Susan Jones added, “You have an organization that really exists for the community and they take money from people—private citizens and donors—yet they are closing their meetings to the very same citizens.”
Apparently, the shelter has been experiencing difficulties of varying kinds with the locals for a few years. It is in the middle of building a new shelter, but construction has evidently halted, causing donors to question where the money has gone and what it will take to get it done. Last year, seven of ten board members resigned and last month the board decided that its meetings would no longer be open to the public. The decision to close board meetings—certainly not unusual but a shift for this group—was put at the door of “best practices” and efficiency. But this caused some citizens to bring the issue to the city council. “We’re all here because we don’t know where else to turn,” announced one shelter donor. “We simply would like to know what is being done with our money.” The city is considering its options since it not only owns the land the shelter is on but has an annual $115,000 contract with the group. –Ruth McCambridge