published Sunday, October 13th, 2013

Chattanooga shares blame for McKamey Animal Center, Grohn says

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    McKamey Animal Center is located on Access Road in Hixson.
    Photo by Dan Henry.
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Despite an upcoming audit of the McKamey Animal Center, months of bickering among its board members and a questionable bonus for its director, one Chattanooga City Council member said the city is partly to blame for the center's operational troubles.

"The previous administration and this administration and City Council previous and this one are more at fault than McKamey is," Councilman Larry Grohn said. "We haven't done our due diligence."

Grohn questions why Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke's staff has asked for an audit of how McKamey's board, the Animal Care Trust, operates when the city's contract with the animal shelter is outdated and the city attorney's office hasn't updated the city's laws on fees, permits and pet licensing.

A 2011 audit by City Auditor Stan Sewell found that the Animal Care Trust board that governs McKamey had proper internal controls, operations and governance. However, the audit also found that the city was holding up the animal center from improving operations.

The auditor recommended multiple improvements, including updates to city ordinances and the contract between the city and Mc-Kamey.

A panel created last year to examine and update the city's overall animal ordinances was halted. Current City Council members killed the bill this summer after weeks of arguing over urban chickens and pushback from local and national animal groups over fee increases. Nothing has happened since.

Andrew Kean, the mayor's chief operating officer, said recent in-house fighting among board members and questionable decisions have to be reviewed first before day-to-day operations can be evaluated. He said the city attorney's office is reviewing McKamey's contract. The city is currently operating on a month-to-month contract with the animal center.

City Attorney Wade Hinton said his office is rewriting the contract, but the city hasn't created a blue ribbon council like the City Council requested to further study the animal ordinance.

Until the city auditor's review of the board is complete, the city won't budge.

"While the animal ordinance is important, allegations of board mismanagement and the misuse of taxpayer dollars is serious and is our No. 1 priority," Berke in a statement. "We will wait for their recommendations before we put forth an animal ordinance or establish a revised agreement with McKamey Animal Center."

Last week, Kean asked Sewell to review how the Animal Care Trust Board functions. Three board members have resigned and questions linger about how the McKamey board gave Executive Director Karen Walsh a $10,000 bonus.

Walsh was awarded her annual bonus without a vote by the full board. Chairman Bruce Baird had asked board members to approve the bonus retroactively by electronic vote. A state official said that likely violates Tennessee's open meetings law.

One board member defended the bonus.

"It's the exact same bonus we give her every year. [Walsh] exceeds all of our expectations," said board Vice Chairman Susie Matthews.

The board credits Walsh, who made $107,000 this year, with McKamey's national recognition for pet adoptions and for the center's recent makeover from reality television show "Trading Spaces."

Karla McKamey-Valadez, emeritus board member and an early benefactor along with her father Bob McKamey, said she welcomes the's city audit request that she believes will clear the center's name.

"I just want to get it out in the open," she said. "I just want to move on, it's literally put a stall in doing anything."

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at jlukachick@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659.

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...

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