NYCACC: Why Changing the Director Alone Changes Nothing

Julie Bank’s contract as Executive Director of New York City Animal Care and Control expires in April, and already activists are beating the drum to have her replaced. The view from the ground isn’t encouraging: widespread mismanagement, the mistreatment of animals, neglect, death, incompetency. I have an inkling, though, that the people who hired Julie Bank are fairly happy with her performance and she’ll have her contract extended for another two years. After all, she has done exactly what she’s been hired to do.

We know from the 25 No Kill open admission shelters in North America that have followed the No Kill Equation to achieve success that the most important part of the equation is a caring and compassionate director – but I’m here to tell you that the people who hired Julie Bank have a different agenda. [NB: When I wrote this in early 2012 there were 25 No Kill communities in the US led by open admission shelters. In Sept 2012 there are more than 50 and that number is growing fast. See this site for current information.]

Ms. Bank was hired to be a fall guy; a patsy. Ms. Bank was hired to fail. Ms. Bank was given charge of a failing and desperately underfunded agency with the mandate to not make waves, not make big changes, not spend money, and to not make too much trouble for the city – and most importantly to take the blame for the failures of the agency in the place of the real source for the blame: the Mayor of New York City and the New York City Department of Health. By the standards of those guidelines she has been a smashing success.

So let’s look at who really controls Animal Control in New York City; let’s look at the governing structure of New York City Animal Care and Control – an “independent non-profit” firmly under the control of the city and the Mayor.

The Executive Director position currently held by Julie Bank is responsible to the board. The board is appointed by the Mayor (except for two newly created currently empty unfilled slots). The chairman of the board is Dr. Thomas Farley, who is also the Commissioner of the Department of Health and has been appointed to that position by the Mayor as well. The DOH supervises AC&C’s contract and budget and is responsible for starving it for funding, so Farley both underfunds the ACC and chairs the board that accepts the underfunding without complaint. He supervises the ACC which is technically a contractor to the DOH (which he heads) while chairing the board as the contractee. Neat, huh?

The entire structure was set by the Giuliani administration after the ASPCA gave up the city’s animal services contract in disgrace 17 years ago when the pound was even more kill-happy and abusive than they are now – yes, the ASPCA killed animals by the score. The city created a work of evil genius: while technically an independent non-profit, the ACC is under complete control of the city – and ultimately the Mayor. The best of both worlds for them: they can spend as little as possible on city animal services while placing the blame for inadequate performance on an “independent” nonprofit. They have been sued for this clearly illegal structure but the lawsuit was dismissed on technical grounds (“lack of standing”). The city placed responsibility for supervision of the animal control contract on the city’s Department of Health, but they have a very clear conflict of interest: the mission of the Department of Health is to protect the health of people. They have no mandate to care for animals, it is not a priority, and they have never shown any interest in doing so.

Open it up for competitive bidding? Not so fast. Under the New York State Dog Laws of 1894, the mayor of NYC alone decides who runs city animal control. As long as he’s happy, nothing changes. Until you have a mayor who cares, nothing changes. In 17 years, there have been TV news stories. There have been a series of newspaper exposes as well as independent stories. There have been blistering reports from the city’s comptroller. Nothing changes. The Mayor has ultimate power over NYC’s animals. Bloomberg has never cared a whit and now as a lame duck doesn’t have to. The board has a history of hiring Executive Directors they can completely control. The one time they did not was Ed Boks in in 2003, and his contract was not renewed after he repeatedly challenged DOH policy and attempted reform. They learned their lesson: every ED since toes the line and does not bite the hand that feeds them.

Don’t waste your time and your breath trying to get Julie Bank fired; as long as the people who hired her maintain the same priorities they’ve always had, New York City will get what it’s always got. To get the compassionate director we need installed, we’re going to have to look higher – the people who hire the Executive Director need to do so for the right reasons and support them in a manner that encourages their success.

My personal belief is that the best bet for permanent, lasting reform is to back a Mayoral candidate in 2013 who will change the structure and make reform a priority – because a Mayor is the only person with the power to do so. Thus far Manhattan Borough President and likely 2013 Mayoral Candidate Scott Stringer is the only potential candidate to make it part of his platform and display a serious understanding of the underlying issues, but it’s very early – we do not yet even have declared candidacies.

Want to learn more? The best source of history for the NYCACC is the website of Shelter Reform Action Committee – the site is difficult to navigate but the information is gold. They’ve been at this a long time. Study the history, study what’s happened and what’s been tried.

UPDATE: NYCACC has announced a board meeting on 1/31/12. These meetings are very educational. I’ll see you there.

This entry was posted in New York City, No Kill, NYCACC, Shelter Stuff. Bookmark the permalink.
  • Susan

    Please just read over your cartoon captions before you publish them!

    • jbsibley

      I’m missing something here. The problem with the caption (other than slightly confused grammar) is…?

  • Debbie Tucker

    Great article, great points! And I don’t see anything wrong with the cartoon caption, lol.

  • AC&C Volunteer

    Great points, John, and I do think that putting energy behind nurturing a relationship with and supporting a progressive Mayoral candidate like Stringer is the only key to addressing the structural rot. However, I differ a little from you in that I do believe an Executive Director makes a difference, even under the claws of the DOH. Julie Bank arived at AC&C with policies that were perhaps designed to make her bosses happy, but were clearly reflections of her own priorities. The shutdown of the volunteer program and New Hope program during the busiest summer months so they could “unveil” what has to be the most explicitly and comedically delusional empty promise ever. The hiring of additional managers and assistant managers and volunteer liaisons (for the few volunteers still left) and social media assistants and “placement supervisors” while 2 kennel workers take care of 300+ animals in Manhattan for the 2nd shift and the phones go unasnwered. The lack of community partnerships and the dissolution of a potentially life saving relationship with petsmart that would have showcased dozens of adoptable cats. I’m currently polishing up a piece outlining some of what I think are the worst abuses of Julie Bank’s tenure, and even though it’s totally subjective from my point of view,I hope you’ll have time to look if you are interested. It’s true that she’s just a fall guy for a rotten system, but I think it is also true that she took a rotten system and imposed her own paranoia on top, to truly catastrophic effect. The previous ED wasn’t one-tenth as hostile to the community as Julie Bank has been, and I’ll personally dance on rainbows if a miracle happens and her contract terminates.

    • jbsibley

      Oh, absolutely – the Director does make a difference, but merely removing this one is no guarantee of anything better. It’s just varying degrees of bad at this point – but yeah, she’s on the low side of bad!

      I would be more than happy to look at that piece and perhaps publish it in this forum if you’re interested.

  • Bob Pomilla

    Well said, John and right on the money. ED’s have come and gone and nothing changes, because the problem lies with the mayor and the city council Speaker. Stopping Christine Quinn’s mayoral aspirations isn’t enough. We need to find and unite behind, an animal friendly candidate.

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