Former CHS President Gets Six-Figure Severance


Richard Johnston left the Connecticut Humane Society in March under a growing cloud of controversy and newly released documents show he cashed in on a healthy severance and retirement deal.

Documents obtained under subpoena by Attorney General Richard Blumenthal show Johnston either already has, or will, cash in on severance pay, unused sick and vacation time, deferred salary payments, a pension, a 401(k) plan, and stock options. He'll also receive health benefits until age 66 and be paid for time he spends assisting the charity in mounting a defense against ongoing investigations or potential lawsuits.

Johnston served as both the charity's president and board chairman since 1990.

The eight page separation agreement released by the attorney general's office shows Johnston is receiving nine months severance pay, which CHS documents put at $125,998.79 before taxes.

Johnston also received a $50,000 payment for the unused sick and vacation time he accumulated.

The agreement also shows he accumulated $410,068.34 in two deferred salary plans. His pension benefit stands at $325,045.67 and the value of his 401(k) plan is $281,198.36.

In addition, the agreement calls for Johnston to provide 20 hours of assistance to the CHS free of charge if the charity needs to mount a defense in any legal proceedings, including actions from the attorney general's office and the National Labor Relations Board. After that, he will be paid $60 an hour and be eligible for reimbursement for reasonable expenses.

Johnston was forced to resign in March just weeks after an NBC Connecticut investigation highlighted concerns from animal advocates and former workers about job cuts, increased euthanasia and working conditions at the Newington site.  The investigation also highlighted questionable spending by Johnston, including the use of donations to purchase liquor.

"To those of us that have been close to the Connecticut Humane Society, it's not that surprising to us," said Maureen Lord, one of the worker's fired by Johnston late last year after organizing a union.  "It's good to finally have it coming to light."

Supporting documents from the charity put Johnston's total annual compensation at more than $225,000 including his salary and benefits.

"The thing that's upsetting is that the society wasn't open and honest about the details of his compensation during the time he was employed and it seems like they went out of their way to hide the fact that he was compensated in excess of $200,000 a year," said Lord.

The charity's new board chairman, Christopher White, declined an interview.

In a statement released by its outside public relations firm, the CHS said, "We stand by the fact that our former president's compensation and severance package, after tenure of 20 years, is in line with others in the non-profit sector and comparable to animal shelters nationally."

The attorney general began investigating financial practices at the charity back in February 2009. The investigation remains ongoing, and the analysis of Johnston's separation agreement is part of that.

"My office is reviewing these documents to determine whether compensation paid by the Humane Society, as well as other transactions, were appropriate use of charitable resources," Blumenthal said in a statement.

The CHS is still in the process of hiring a replacement president. They have also changed their bylaws to make sure the positions of president and board chair are held by two different people in the future. Also, they implemented a new euthanasia policy.

"The Connecticut Humane Society has taken several first steps to address some of our concerns, but our ongoing investigation is necessary to ensure that this organization takes every step possible to protect its critical mission," Blumenthal said.

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