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OPINION: Our City Government Failed Us

Bruce MooreSeptember 19, 2018

Today, Wednesday, September 19, 2018, Salinans woke up immeasurably poorer, although they may not know it. Yet. Last night, Vanessa Cowie, Director of the Salina Animal Services, resigned, rather than face termination.

Vanessa committed the unpardonable sin of doing her job, and doing it well. Her job? Prevent abuse and neglect of animals where possible, and punish that abuse and neglect where it could
not be prevented.

Jason Gage, our former City Manager, didn’t want Salina Animal Services involved in animal abuse and neglect cases. Abuse and neglect cases involving the impoundment of dozens of animals were brought by the Animal Shelter, prosecuted to a conviction in Salina Municipal Court, and then appealed to the District Court. While the appeals were pending, the special prosecutor quietly settled and returned the animals to those convicted of abuse and neglect. That special prosecutor worked for the same law firm as does City Attorney Greg Bengtson. The City Attorney answers to the City Manager. Connection?

When Saline County, pursuant to its contract with Salina Animal Services, requested assistance with citizen-reported suspected animal abuse and neglect, Vanessa responded. To prevent further potential abuse or neglect, the animals were impounded and boarded, pending a determination of whether there had, indeed, been abuse or neglect. A criminal case relative to those charges remains pending in District Court in Saline County. Those accused are entitled to a presumption of innocence, and a jury will decide whether the charges have merit.

That’s the way the system is supposed to work: acknowledge the allegations of abuse or neglect, preserve and protect the animals while the process goes forward, and collect and present the evidence to a judge or jury for validation.

Jason Gage did not want Vanessa or Salina Animal Services involved in the preservation of those animals. It would seem that, as far as he cared, they could have died in the field. He was angry at Vanessa for getting the City involved (notwithstanding the city’s contract with the Saline County and that it was her job), and he held her personally responsible.

Immediately thereafter, Chris Cotten and Scott Garrie began their campaign to remove Vanessa from her position. Since there were personnel procedures that had to be followed to accomplish that goal, it seems likely that Cotten and Garrie sought, and received, advice from their mentors, Gage and then Assistant City Manager Mike Schrage, on what to do and how to do it.

When Cotten and Garrie “pulled the trigger” and terminated Vanessa, they, and she, knew her only avenue of appeal was to now Interim City Manager Mike Schrage. The prosecutor had become the judge. The deck was stacked, and Vanessa knew it. Even under the remote chance that her termination would not be upheld by Schrage, she would have had to continue to report to supervisors committed to undermining her and removing her from her position.

Talk about an untenable situation.

Well, the white boy cabal of Gage, Schrage, Cotten, Garrie (and others?) succeeded in their goal of removing Vanessa from the Animal Shelter. They won, and we lost. As did every female working for city government. The white boy cabal is in power, and grievances filed by female employees for abusive and sexist comments will just get them fired.

If you are a Salina woman, are the child or parent or sibling or spouse or partner of a Salina woman, or even if you just know a Salina woman, you should be outraged. I am.

Cotten and Garrie now have a new toy box to plunder, without fear of oversight. When Vanessa was running the shelter, they arbitrarily and without notice cut off her spending authority, leaving staff temporarily unable to buy animal food or pay the shelter’s vendors.

Now, the cabal has hijacked the shelter’s FaceBook page, a page created by Vanessa to promote shelter activities and adoptions. Shelter staff no longer have access to that page to update the availability of animals. It’s now being controlled by the white boy cabal. Shelter staff learned the cabal had reduced adoption prices by reading the shelter’s FaceBook page. Mismanagement defined.

Shelter staff have now been instructed that donations to the shelter are not to be entered in the city computer, they are to be placed in a bag to be picked up by Garrie. No accounting oversight. No receipts. No assurance that those funds will be used as intended to benefit the animals and mission of the shelter. The potential for loss, theft or just misapplication of those donated funds is manifest. Mismanagement exemplified.

In short, don’t donate to the Salina Animal Shelter; you don’t know where your money will end up.

Instead, donate to the Friends of the Salina Animal Shelter, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, comprised of volunteers committed to the mission of saving and protecting animals. The Friends will carry on the shelter’s intended mission, even as Cotten and Garrie “repurpose” the Salina Animal Shelter to their own ends.

Hiring Cotten and Garrie was Gage’s call. Shame on him. As Schrage is now Interim City Manager, retaining and supporting Cotten and Garrie is on him, and he gets to share the blame.

If the City Commission, which has been AWOL on this issue, votes to offer Schrage the “permanent” job of City Manager, it should be ashamed. If we citizens continue to support the passive and supplicant attitude of the City Commissioners, then shame on us.

We deserve, and have a right to expect, that our elected officials will ask questions and demand answers, and not be satisfied being spoon-fed information by city staff who might have their own agendas. For months, the City Commission watched from the bleacher seats and did nothing while the Animal Shelter, recognized as one of the best in the region, and Vanessa, recognized by Petco (who awarded grants of $350,000.00 to the shelter) as one of the top 30 shelter professionals in the nation, were systematically attacked and destroyed.

Our city government failed us, and failed us miserably, and I am angry. You should be too.

Bruce Moore is a Salina Animal Shelter volunteer, and an active member of Friends of the Salina Animal Shelter


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