By Jen Cooper and Liz Pulver
The Town of Hempstead Animal Shelter has been under financial audit since Feb. 1 by the Nassau County Comptroller amid calls for reform by animal rights groups.
The audit was announced by new democratic Hempstead Town Supervisor Laura Gillen on Jan. 31, and is being conducted by Nassau County Comptroller Jack Schnirman. It is planned to last six to nine months, and throughout that time period the animals will not be affected.
“We’ve heard for quite some time from residents of the town of Hempstead with concerns, as has the Supervisor of the town,” Schnirman said. “We’ve responded directly to the Town Supervisor’s invitation to come on in and do this audit, and we appreciate that invitation.”
The auditors will be specifically looking at the expenditures, hiring practices and why the majority of the shelter’s resources go to employee salaries, Schnirman said. The shelter has a budget of 4 million, with over 3 million of it going to payroll.
Many of the concerns about the shelter have been raised by Diane Madden and her animal advocacy group, Hope For Hempstead Shelter. Madden created the organization after adopting her dog Lacey, just a day before the shelter planned to euthanize her.
“She appeared to be a very healthy, young and energetic dog and when I asked why [they were going to euthanize her], they said it was because she barked too loud,” Madden said.
Madden and her fellow group member Lucille deFina volunteered at the shelter until 2010 when the shelter attempted to ban them after Madden and deFina reported animal mistreatment.
“The hiring practices, the favoritism, the nepotism, the patronage. It is a total misuse and mismanagement of taxpayer dollars over there, and of course the result is their operational practices also,” deFina said.
While Hope for Hempstead Shelter activists are calling for a more in-depth look at the shelter’s practices, the audit will be strictly financial.
“We don’t have any veterinarians on our team, only auditors,” Schnirman said. “If there is any health and safety issues that our auditors happen to come upon, those will be forwarded to the proper authorities.”
In addition to the audit, the animal shelter is currently facing five lawsuits, Madden said.
“It depends on which ones are in what stage of litigation but approximately that is correct,” Mike Fricchione, the Press Secretary for Town of Hempstead and Supervisor Gillen, confirmed. Gillen is one of the few Democrats in the Town of Hempstead government.
Spokespeople for Erica King Sweeney, Republican Town Board Member for the animal shelter’s district, said she only learned about the audit the day before it started, when she was invited to the press conference announcing it.
“Gillen invited her, but didn’t speak to her directly about it, so Sweeney didn’t know about this prior,” Suzie Pokalsky from Sweeney’s office said.
Madden said that no matter how much people don’t want to make the animal welfare issues political, they inevitably are.
“The hope is that the new administration that came in will break through this barrier of the republican party using tax dollars for friends and family, and put people in place who actually want to be there for the welfare of the animals,” deFina said.