Monroe County partially responded to my request for information. Three things seem to be very helpful in eliciting a response.
- Publish the request on the blog.
- Use the phrase “please consider this a formal public records request”.
- Copy the county attorney, Bob Shillinger.
There are a couple of observations to be made about the response.
- As I said above, it is incomplete and not entirely what I asked for. I asked for documents to support the seemingly inflated numbers for the Lower Keys shelter and the Middle Keys shelter. I got numbers for the Lower Keys shelter and the Upper Keys shelter. Nothing for the Middle Keys shelter.
- County staff apparently made little effort to ensure an apples-to-apples comparison. The report received from the Lower Keys shelter was very detailed. The report received from the Upper Keys shelter was simply a summary of the monthly reports they had already provided.
Why is this so important?
- I firmly believe that to make the best possible decisions, all available facts have to be viewed in an un-distorted way. Monroe County fails over and over again because they simply refuse to be guided by facts and basic ethical principles (such as fairness and humane treatment of animals). The county seems to regard these necessary elements as nuisances that slow down the spending machine.
- The county’s unprincipled and undisciplined approach to governing has real-life consequences. We’ve seen the impact of the enormous $125 million wastewater funding disparity on the Key Largo area. Some county officials deny it to this day despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Unfortunately, animal control is getting the same treatment and the same poor results.
What can be done? I’ve got a few ideas. I’m working on a blog post about it. I bet if people in the community start working on this, they’ll come up with much better solutions than I ever could. But here’s the thing – County Commissioner Sylvia Murphy is an impediment to progress. The citizens will either have to replace her or go around her if this issue (or any issue) is to be successfully addressed.
Murphy has made her position very clear – she is “perfectly happy” with the performance of the Upper Keys animal shelter. She will not entertain any solutions because she does not believe the high kill rate is a problem. She’s taken a similar stance on the wastewater funding disparity, which she simultaneously dismissed as not real and claimed would be resolved in a few years – both in the same statement.
Even if one the other commissioners cared enough to take action to improve the situation, Murphy’s stance would make it politically awkward for them to do so. That goes double for county staff. I have to believe that at least some of them might actually care about the excessively high kill rate. I certainly hope they do!
Murphy is an obstacle to humane treatment of animals in the Upper Keys and she is an obstacle to fair treatment of Key Largo taxpayers. That’s not how it has to be. The voters will take their future into their own hands this November.
Now back to that response. Here is a link to the whole email thread. Links to the documents provided are here, here and here. Let’s take a look at Kevin Wilson’s response.
Attached are the purpose prepared summary reports from the shelters in response to a request for a summary set of statistics for the annual report. The HACC report specifically addresses dogs & cats. The FKSPCA summary for the annual report includes some line items that they do not report to the County on their monthly summary which focuses on dogs & cats such as their clinic clients, etc.. Of note, the monthly reports that you already have also contains reports on “other animals” such as chickens, iguanas, rabbits and such. If you look at the upper right corner of the monthly summaries already sent to you, you will see that in CY 2015 FKSPCA handled several hundred of these animals while HACC had a very low number of those The Marathon number for those is also higher than HACC but lower than Key West.
He basically admitted that staff made no attempt to compare apples-to-apples. Did the Upper Keys shelter even know they were supposed to report all these other items? Why did staff report the total number of animals for the other two shelters, but cats and dogs only for the Upper Keys shelter? As Wilson said, this information was available in the monthly reports. And where is the report for the Middle Keys shelter that supports 800-1000 animals? The monthly reports support a grand total of 471 when animals besides dogs and cats are included.
If the stakes weren’t so high, I’d probably just write off the inaccuracies, the inapt comparisons and the data holes. But the high kill rate in the Upper Keys is an ongoing problem. It was first reported by the Free Press last year. I can’t help but wonder how the situation might have improved by now if the county made a good-faith effort to actually address the problem when it first came to light. We’ll never know.
If the county ever decides to get serious about resolving this problem, the first thing they have to do is make an HONEST effort to understand it. Unfortunately, this seems unlikely to happen any time soon. Monroe County has a history of playing politics with the animal shelters. The “slopping bookkeeping” contained in the state of the county report looks to be more of the same.