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Interim Clinton Co. Humane Society Director Resigns, Citing Board's 'Micromanagement'

Emilie Syberg

Clinton County Humane Society Interim Director Ben Pfeffer resigned last week. In a press release, Pfeffer attributes his early exit from the position to “micromanagement issues” with the board that oversees the shelter. Pfeffer, a former Humane Society board member, stepped in to run the shelter after the previous director, Jim Tate, was fired in August – and says he now has a better understanding of Tate’s issues with the board.

Pfeffer, who’d previously been the treasurer of the Humane Society Board, was brought back to lead the shelter two days after Jim Tate’s August termination. His term was supposed to last at least until Halloween. Instead, it lasted just 50 days.

“The board didn’t care for my style of management, which was: if I disagreed, I pushed back,” Pfeffer says.

Pfeffer says his ability to run the shelter was sometimes stymied by board members who inserted themselves into the decisions he had to make as director, using their positions as leverage to get involved. 

“Not all the board members, but the leadership of the board, likes to play in the adoption process,” Pfeffer says. “They like to play in the operation of how things work in the facility. They are quite good at setting a policy without consulting the director to begin with.”

When he says “leadership,” he mostly means Board President Nancy Elsea, though he says what he calls other “strong” board members also interfered.

“This was absolutely exactly what happened when Jim Tate was director, and I am willing to go on record that I apologize to Jim, publicly, that if I at any time ever overstepped my boundaries as a treasurer, that I was wrong,” Pfeffer says.

“I’ll be darned,” Jim Tate says, after hearing Pfeffer’s apology. “Guess I should have sat down for that one.”

Tate says he has no hard feelings.

“If I’ve done anything that’s hurt him or damaged his credibility, I apologize as well,” Tate says. “You know, maybe we can meet in the middle somewhere here.”

Pfeffer and Tate both say the board told them there wasn’t enough money to address some of the ongoing facility issues at the shelter, like rodent control or remediating mold. Current board member and treasurer Genie Newhart says that’s not true, and that—for example—the board has actively sought quotes from contractors on furnace repairs. Newhart also praised Pfeffer, saying he showed the board how well the shelter could be run. 

“He did a bang-up job, as far as I’m concerned,” Newhart says. “He had a monumental task.”

Pfeffer says the Humane Society’s coffers currently have more than $60,000 in them – some of which could be used for repairs, he says, if only the board would allow it.

“I have no faith in this board,” Pfeffer says. “I’m saying that publicly. I have no faith in this board. Because it is paralyzed to make decisions that are in the best interest of the shelter.”

Board members have maintained the Humane Society needs a healthy rainy day fund in case revenue dries up. That’s a reasonable worry, as the city has already canceled $20,000 in yearly funding for a trap, neuter, release program. And county commissioners have threatened to pull another $95,000 in annual grants if the board doesn’t open up its books.

Newhart says the board has consented to a financial review, but that’s less comprehensive than the audit the commissioners requested. She contends the audit is just a formality.

“The audit—it is just appeasing the people that have asked for it,” Newhart says.

Pfeffer says what the review will find is a lack of specifics.

“Any accountant will tell you they’re not detailed enough,” Pfeffer says.

But the former board treasurer also says he doesn’t think there’s been any wrongdoing.

“It is my position that there was no financial shenanigans whatsoever,” Pfeffer says.

Pfeffer is planning to meet with county commissioners in the coming weeks to give what he calls an “assessment” of the shelter and the board’s role in running it. But he says he’s prepared to walk out of the meeting if he feels attacked by the public, who he says have threatened him since he became interim executive director.

“I have had personal threats on my safety, on Facebook, that I’m going to pay for what I’m doing,” Pfeffer says.

Though he’s not yet sure which commissioners meeting he’ll be asked to attend, Pfeffer says his presentation is ready.

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