AG Urges Changes at Connecticut Humane Society

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal is strongly encouraging the Connecticut Humane Society to make big changes in the way it does business. The suggested improvements are outlined in a preliminary report just released by Blumenthal.

In the report, Blumenthal encourages the Connecticut Humane Society to make immediate changes to management practices and financial oversight.  Blumenthal has investigated the charity for more than a year after receiving complaints from current and former workers. 

The report comes one week after President and Board Chairman Richard Johnston resigned under a growing cloud of controversy surrounding his leadership and care of animals.  It also comes two weeks after an NBC Connecticut investigation detailed concerns raised by animal advocates about increased euthanasia, staffing cuts, working conditions, and questionable financial practices.

"The bottom line, this organization needs stronger, better leadership to stop conflicts of interest, spend more on caring for animals, and respect the views of volunteers and staff," said Blumenthal, during an interview.

In the report, Blumenthal found the Connecticut Humane Society restricts an "unnecessary and excessive amount" of assets.  The report encourages the board to release more of its $52 million fund balance for animal care.

The report also questions the practice of board members getting business from the charity. Financial reports put the amount of board-related business at more than $570,000 over a three year period.  The report reads "the frequency and amount of Related Party Transactions threatens the integrity and reputation of the CHS and underscores the need to strengthen conflict of interest protocols."

Blumenthal says the practice of board members getting business from the charity should be scaled back or stopped, and that such services should be put out to bid. 

"The practice of permitting related transactions that create at least the appearance of conflict of interest is very unusual in non-profits," said Blumenthal.  "Generally, there are policies in place that prevent these conflicts of interest in appearance, if not reality, and boards should be, and generally are, very sensitive to these concerns."

The report also states that the Attorney General's office received credible complaints regarding a dysfunctional culture and managerial misconduct, many involving Johnston who served as both president and board chair. The report states that such a management structure "inappropriately wedded the organization to the reputation, priorities, and conduct of a single individual."  

The report encourages the charity to restructure its management "to disperse authority and control of CHS."  Last week, the board said bylaws will be changed to ensure the positions of president and board chair will be held by two people in the future.

Allegations that workers have been improperly fired due to union organization are being referred to the National Labor Relations Board, according to the report.    

In response to the report, newly elected Board Chairman Christopher White released a statement saying "many of the suggestions that he has recommended for our organization are well underway."

White also said "The Society is in the middle of a period of what we hope will be great, positive change and we are looking at the change in management as an opportunity to improve and reenergize the organization."

White is among the board members who have received business from the charity.

The report shows the Attorney General's office found no wrongdoing in connection with a condo in Florida that was part of the initial complaint to the office. The report also states that there was no evidence "that CHS even owned any property in Florida." 

The investigation into possible financial wrongdoing pertaining to liquor purchases, political mailings, and other allegations is ongoing, said Blumenthal.

"Our investigation raised very serious concerns about potential misuse and misappropriation of funds which we are continuing to investigate," Blumenthal said. "What's very, very important here is this organization has very substantial resources. These very substantial resources ought to be put to greater good in caring for animals." 

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