From David Fang, Past President, The Humane Society of Harford County:
For almost 6 years, The Humane Society of Harford County made promises, representations and commitments to former County Executive David Craig, current and all former County Council members including County Council President Billy Boniface, the taxpayers of Harford County and donors to both the new HSHC shelter building and the Rebel’s Dog Park (“RDP”) committee that a new and improved Rebel’s Dog Park will be built as part of the re-development at 2208 Connolly Road in Fallston.
That was up until three weeks ago, when supporters received a letter from HSHC Executive Director Jen Swanson. The highlight? “…due to unforeseen circumstances, we are writing to let you know that a public dog park on shelter grounds is not feasible at this time.” This is bad enough, but to add to this duplicity, unless things change in a hurry County Executive Barry Glassman is allowing HSHC to take $6 million of County taxpayer money and not deliver on their promise.
I was the president of HSHC from 2009 through February 2015. The inclusion of Rebel’s Dog Park was never a “maybe.” It was part of a well-thought out plan to
1- give back to the community for its confidence in our turnaround;
2 – bring more people to the shelter, as it is a well established principle that more animals will get adopted when there is more foot traffic at the shelter facility;
3 – be able to solicit donations from park attendees; and,
4 – bottom line, the people and the dogs who patronized Rebel’s loved it.
So naturally one wonders “what are the “unforeseen circumstances?” I have asked Executive Director Jen Swanson through their Facebook announcement and have been met with deafening silence. It appears that the current Board seems to believe that you can represent to the taxpayers, politicians and donors consistently over a period of 6 years that you are going to re-develop the site and include a dog park, file a site plan with Harford County that shows the new dog park, take $6 million of taxpayer money to build a new shelter and then punt on the balance of what was promised because, well, because the Board of Directors has determined that there are “unforeseen” and as of now undisclosed circumstances.
I meet with County Administrator and former County Council President Billy Boniface on Wednesday, September 27th to bring this matter to his attention. On 10/4 I received a call from Boniface with an astonishing bottom line – County Executive Barry Glassman does not want to pick a fight with HSHC. He would much rather let them get away with breaking promises, taking money under false pretenses, and not answering the simple question of what defines “unforeseen circumstances.” This is appeasement and political cowardice, not leadership. I explained the following points to Mr. Boniface:
While it is true that no County funds were spent on interior improvements for Rebel’s, part of the County’s $6 million was spent SPECIFICALLY in anticipation of construction of Rebel’s, namely a water pipe was installed from the new shelter building under the frost line and brought to the fence line for Rebel’s, and similarly a conduit and pull line was installed to bring electric to Rebel’s. These were taxpayer dollars spent two and three years ago in anticipation of a dog park on Humane Society grounds. What this Board is doing is just plain wrong. And as far as what this County Executive is doing? If he doesn’t step up and do the right thing it will be one more thing for voters to gripe about.
For some people, it is very possible that financial decisions were made to donate to HSHC based upon the full package- new building, a surgical suite to perform spay and neuter surgeries in-house, beautiful community feature in a wonderful dog park. Right now the Board of Directors and the Executive Director at HSHC are batting 1 for 3, which may be enough to get them to Cooperstown, but in my book is a dismal failure when entrusted with a $6 million taxpayer funded facility and $800,000 in operating funds for County FY18.
The County Executive has enough problems of his own making heading into his re-election campaign. Making HSHC do what they promised comes from strength. Glassman’s “hands off” approach is only going to create additional diversions he doesn’t need.
Bottom line is that County Executive is blaming the prior administration for “not getting it in writing.” That is what makes Barry Glassman a politician. A politician will blame his or her predecessors. A leader fixes problems. The abandonment by the HSHC Board of a 6 year promise is a problem. Barry Glassman can either be a leader and deal with it, or he can be a politician, stick his head in the sand and hope it goes away.
This can be fixed. But the County Executive needs to lead and the HSHC board needs to do the right thing. I am not optimistic about either thing happening.
Past President, The Humane Society of Harford County January 2009 – January 2015
Board of Directors, The Humane Society of Harford County March 2006 – December 2008