Rodney Williams' Humane Society email, w/ response

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Commissioner Rodney Williams has thus far declined to publicly discuss the recent problems with the Franklin County Humane Society. He had no comment at our last voting meeting, and he has declined to participate in a public meeting sometime this week. He has, however, attempted to discuss this topic via an email exchange between the entire City Commission. The City Commission should never discuss public business outside of the public eye, and so in the interest of full disclosure and transparency, I'm posting Commissioner Williams' full email (and my subsequent response) below. This may be more information than folks want to read, but I strongly believe that everything we do should be made available to the public.

Sellus Wilder
Frankfort City Commissioner
selluswilder@gmail.com

The following is Commissioner Williams' email response to my request for a special meeting next week (see http://www.state-journal.com/news/simple_article/4867621 and related comments). His email is directed at me specifically, but was also sent to the entire City Commission on July 30:

You seem to misread and misunderstand a lot of things. First, Rob didn't mislead anyone. Its interesting how you often suggest other people mislead you whenever you don't get your way. I don't know who you had read the contract for you, but its not true that we currently have no obligation to continue our funding to the FCHS. If either party decides to discontinue it, they are obliged to provide the other party a written notice of their intention to discontinue it at least 90 days in advance. If you're suggesting to anyone that's not the case, you're either ignorant of what our obligations are, or you're deliberately misleading them. And by the way, the city doesn't just give them money to support their cause. We pay them for services they provide to us. That's a rather significant circumstance that a lot of interested people seem to ignore. In addition to our concerns about the FCHS and their role in our community, we also have an obligation to consider the public's safety in dealing with stray and sometimes dangerous dogs and other animals. That's why we employ an animal control officer within the police department. We can't discontinue our contract with the FCHS unless and until we identify and secure a viable alternative to their services " unless, of course, we're prepared to suffer the consequences of not having a shelter available to us to secure stray and sometimes dangerous dogs. I suggest to the board and staff that we don't put ourselves in that situation.

I too, like many others, see what has happened at the shelter as a serious mistake. I also agree that we have an obligation to have some serious conversations with the FCHS board and staff in order to have an opportunity to express our concerns and suggestions for changes in their operation. I would like to find out how they identify volunteers to serve on their board and how their staff communicates meeting times, volunteer and fund raising efforts, etc. If they claim to have a shortage of volunteers, we can find out what attempts they're making to recruit help. Many people apparently aren't convinced they're making much of an effort.

Tony has been out of town since this past Tuesday morning, but is returning to work Monday or Tuesday. I've worked late each night Tuesday through Thursday this week in Versailles, getting back to Frankfort between 9:00 and 9:30, and I expect to have to do so most nights next week. For anyone asking my opinion on how to deal with the situation, I suggest Tony have a conversation with Judge Collins as well as FCHS board members and staff as soon as he can this coming week, and invite them to our August 9 work session in order to discuss the matter. If they don't agree to participate, we can discuss it further at that time and come to some sort of agreement on what direction to provide staff. What our community expects and deserves is an honest discussion on the matter that considers the real circumstances we face instead of a hasty knee jerk reaction to a very unfortunate mistake without the benefit of interaction with everyone involved.

Sincerely,
Rodney


The following is my open reply to Commissioner Williams, sent August 2:

Commissioner Williams,

The only topic we should be discussing in these emails are potential meeting dates/times and other procedural matters (which have been the sole topics of my emails on this subject to date - even my criticism of our City Solicitor's advice is only in the context of trying to convince you all that a special meeting is warranted). I don't know why you aren't willing to hold this conversation in public until our August work session, Rodney, but you have no right to expect that any of these emails are private. Any email exchange amongst the entire City Commission is legally considered a public document, and is therefore subject to open records requests. I'm releasing your email and this response to the public in the interest of full disclosure and transparency. I'm glad that you express a willingness to finally publicly discuss this subject at our next work session, but it's not appropriate for you to decline multiple opportunities to publicly discuss this issue both last week and this week, and to then turn around and attempt to discuss it in private with the entire City Commission in the meantime.

I realize that you and I disagree on a number of points, and that my point of view frequently upsets you However, it's unfortunate that you feel the need to accuse me of being ignorant and/or deceptive. I hope this conversation can proceed in a polite and civil manner from this point forward. I suspect that some of our disagreements stem from simple misunderstandings, but it will be very difficult for us to sort through those misunderstandings and reach some positive common ground if we insist on insulting each other and calling each other names.

The following is my open response to the statements made in your email. Please forgive me for referring to you in the third person in the following response, but since this is now a public discussion I thought I would limit confusion by referring to everyone except myself in the third person (as is our custom in public meetings):

1) "You seem to misread and misunderstand a lot of things. First, Rob didn't mislead anyone."

Rob Moore advised us on during our last voting meeting on July 26th (which is available on DVD and is a matter of public record) that we only had two options if we wanted to alter the terms of our contract with the FCHS. He informed us that we could either breach the contract (aka: simply stop honoring it and face potential litigation) or wait until it expires and renegotiate at that time. A few days later, after I requested a special meeting to discuss this subject, Rob Moore amended his initial claims and told us that we have the option to cancel the contract on its own terms with advance notice. Again, this is an undeniable matter of public record. 'Canceling a contract on its own terms' and 'breaching a contract' are two very different options with very different consequences. Not only do we clearly have the right to cancel the contract with advance notice (as a number of people have acknowledged), but both parties can also simply agree to negotiate new terms to replace the old ones without formally canceling the original contract in the first place (this is a very basic tenant of contract law).

2) "Its interesting how you often suggest other people mislead you whenever you don't get your way."

I'm not suggesting that our City Solicitor mislead me because I didn't get my way. I'm stating for a fact that he mislead all of us specifically because he told all of us something that wasn't entirely true, and because we all believed him. I don't think that he was deliberately misleading us. It's far more likely that he simply didn't know what he was talking about on July 26th. Mr. Moore himself has acknowledged that he didn't even review the contract before our meeting on July 26th, so it's no surprise that the information he provided us at that time turned out to be uninformed and therefore unintentionally misleading. Rob Moore really should have reviewed our contract before that meeting. If he had, we might not even be having this conversation right now.

3) "I don't know who you had read the contract for you, but its not true that we currently have no obligation to continue our funding to the FCHS."

I've had a number of competent lawyers look at this contract, and they all agree with my understanding. Even Rob Moore has acknowledged that we can legally cancel our contract with appropriate advance notice. Furthermore, we don't need to cancel our contract in order to negotiate new terms. The County's contract contains comparable terms, and the County is discussing renegotiation of the terms of their contract with the FCHS later this week. The only people in Franklin County who seem to think that the City would be doing something wrong by negotiating a new contract right now are some of our City officers. Even the Franklin County Humane Society doesn't seem to hold this position.

4) "If either party decides to discontinue it, they are obliged to provide the other party a written notice of their intention to discontinue it at least 90 days in advance."

In his previous sentence, Commissioner Williams claims that we have a legal obligation to continue funding the FCHS. In his very next sentence he claims that we have an option to legally discontinue that funding as per conditions of the contract. These are mutually exclusive statements (meaning they can't possibly both be true because they contradict each other).

Commissioner Williams is mistaken to suggest that our City Solicitor told us on July 26, 2010 that we had the option to legally cancel the contract. Rob Moore said no such thing during our voting meeting. In fact, Mr. Moore did not present us with the option that Commissioner Williams describes until July 29, three full days after our voting meeting, and one full day after I initially requested that the Commission call a special meeting to discuss this matter. Again, this is all a well-documented matter of public record.

5) "If you're suggesting to anyone that's not the case, you're either ignorant of what our obligations are, or you're deliberately misleading them."

I'm not suggesting anything. I'm stating facts, and have ample documentation and clear evidence to support my claims. Anyone who wants to see this evidence can contact me at selluswilder@gmail.com, and I will provide the following documentation:

A) a DVD of our July 26th voting meeting.
B) a copy of Rob Moore's July 29th correspondence with the City Commission.
C) a copy of the City's contract with the FCHS.

All of these documents confirm my claims. The only point that's even open to debate here is whether or not the contract continued in full force beyond July 1, 2009. The contract contains an undeniable expiration date of July 1, 2009, but our City Solicitor seems to take the position that the contract automatically renewed on that date. There is no automatic renewal clause in the contract, however, and so many lawyers would argue that while many terms of the contract are indeed still valid, the contract has not continued 'in full force' for the last year or so, but has only been de-facto extended by virtue of the City's continued funding of the FCHS. This difference in interpretation is very minor and is not actually relevant to the circumstances before us, however, because we all seem to agree that we can cancel the contract with advance notice. I would never label those who disagree with me on this particular point either 'ignorant' or 'deliberately misleading': we simply have an honest difference of opinion.

6) "And by the way, the city doesn't just give them money to support their cause. We pay them for services they provide to us. That's a rather significant circumstance that a lot of interested people seem to ignore."

I have yet to encounter one single person who seems to be ignoring this fact, and would be very surprised if Commissioner Williams can actually produce any names or evidence to support this assertion as well. Everyone I've talked to is fully aware of the fact that the City has contracted with the FCHS for services. That's obviously the point of this entire discussion in the first place. If we didn't pay them for services, then we wouldn't have the opportunity to make specific demands of those services. The fact that we are paying them for a service means that we are well within our rights to set conditions on the terms of that service, just as they are well within their rights to decline our business. This is a pretty basic tenant of the free market.

7) "In addition to our concerns about the FCHS and their role in our community, we also have an obligation to consider the public's safety in dealing with stray and sometimes dangerous dogs and other animals. That's why we employ an animal control officer within the police department. We can't discontinue our contract with the FCHS unless and until we identify and secure a viable alternative to their services " unless, of course, we're prepared to suffer the consequences of not having a shelter available to us to secure stray and sometimes dangerous dogs."

Again, this is all obvious, and nobody that I'm aware of would disagree with this statement. The way Commissioner Williams presents his statement, however, suggests that I and/or others hold a contrary view, which is simply not true at all. His thoughts here perfectly echo my sentiments on the matter, especially this particular comment: "We can't discontinue our contract with FCHS unless and until we identify and secure a viable alternative to their services." This is why I want to negotiate a new contract with the FCHS that requires them to coordinate foster, adoption, spay/neuter, and fundraising efforts with other local and regional organizations, and that stipulates one Mayoral appointment to the FCHS board. I'm cautiously optimistic that the FCHS board will be amenable to these terms.

8) "I too, like many others, see what has happened at the shelter as a serious mistake. I also agree that we have an obligation to have some serious conversations with the FCHS board and staff in order to have an opportunity to express our concerns and suggestions for changes in their operation. I would like to find out how they identify volunteers to serve on their board and how their staff communicates meeting times, volunteer and fund raising efforts, etc. If they claim to have a shortage of volunteers, we can find out what attempts they're making to recruit help. Many people apparently aren't convinced they're making much of an effort."

These comments give me hope that our eventual public meeting will be productive. For what it's worth, I've already met my obligation to have some serious conversations with FCHS board members and staff, and my recommendations are based in large part on those conversations. What I'm trying to do now is convince the Commission to publicly discuss this matter sooner rather than later. I find it difficult to accept that we don't have time to 'publicly' discuss this issue before August 9th, considering the fact that we're 'privately' discussing this issue now (of course, these emails aren't really private because they are still technically public documents, as I mentioned before). I'm posting this entire exchange online because the City Commission has an obligation to only discuss public business in the public eye.

9) "Tony has been out of town since this past Tuesday morning, but is returning to work Monday or Tuesday. I've worked late each night Tuesday through Thursday this week in Versailles, getting back to Frankfort between 9:00 and 9:30, and I expect to have to do so most nights next week."

I'm not entirely sure what Commissioner Williams' point is here. It's possible that he brings this up as justification for not having done research and background work yet (examining the relevant documents, bylaws, reports, etc., and speaking to representatives from relevant interested parties), but neither he nor the City Manager has been any more busy or absent than I have. I was out of town when this story first broke, working 12+hour days to help produce videos of Jon Bon Jovi, Al Green, Dave Matthews Band, etc. for the HullabaLOU Festival. This comparable workload did not prevent me from performing my duties as a City officer, however. I took advantage of modern technology (cell phone, laptop, etc.) in order to talk with FCHS board members and staff, review relevant documents, etc., and had a decent grip on the situation by the time I returned to Frankfort.

Alternatively, these particular comments could be an excuse for refusing to participate in a special meeting this week. I made it clear that I can be flexible on the exact date in order to accommodate my colleagues' schedules. Later in the week would have been acceptable to me, and apparently would have been workable for a majority of the Commission. The real shame is that we could have gotten this ball rolling at our voting meeting last July if the City Solicitor's uninformed advice hadn't prematurely ended the discussion.

10) "For anyone asking my opinion on how to deal with the situation, I suggest Tony have a conversation with Judge Collins as well as FCHS board members and staff as soon as he can this coming week, and invite them to our August 9 work session in order to discuss the matter. If they don't agree to participate, we can discuss it further at that time and come to some sort of agreement on what direction to provide staff."

Commissioner Williams makes it sound like we should be following the City Manager's lead on this. We're the leaders and elected officials in this community, and our City Manger is obligated to act on our guidance. It is not our responsibility to follow his lead. We should be doing our own homework and giving our City Manger formal guidance before he heads into these meetings, not after.

11) "What our community expects and deserves is an honest discussion on the matter that considers the real circumstances we face instead of a hasty knee jerk reaction to a very unfortunate mistake without the benefit of interaction with everyone involved."

I did interact with every party involved and have subsequently suggested a new contract that would require the FCHS to coordinate adoption, foster, spay/neuter, and fundraising efforts with other comparable organizations in the area, and that stipulates one Mayoral (and presumably one County Judge Executive) appointment to the FCHS board. These perfectly reasonable suggestions take 'real circumstances' into account and have at least some support within both the FCHS and the Fiscal Court. I hardly think these suggestions constitute a 'hasty knee jerk reaction,' and I really hope that my colleagues will consider adopting them at our next public meeting.

Sincerely,
Sellus Wilder

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