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Grand Jury: Shelter inquiry blocked 

The SLO Grand Jury is officially “frustrated” with the County Board of Supervisors and the County Administrator’s office, after being banned from attending three meetings relevant to an Animal Services investigation initiated by the Jury in November of 2007. According to an official report released on June 17 of this year, the jury was unable to complete its review because it was denied access to the meetings.

The jury launched its inspection of Animal Services in response to numerous citizen complaints from volunteers working at the county shelter. They include allegations of animal neglect, lack of medical treatment for animals, and inhumane treatment of animals, among others.

In order to determine the validity of the claims, the jury toured the shelter facilities, interviewed staff and volunteers, and reviewed the draft shelter policy and protocol manual.

Independent from the jury investigation, supervisors formed an ad hoc group in August of 2007 to address allegations brought to its attention by the public that were similar to those expressed to the jury by shelter volunteers. The board also approved a $25,000 contract with the Humane Society of the United States for a comprehensive review of animal care and control services at the shelter.

The jury requested, as part of its investigation, to attend two meetings held by the ad hoc group in October of 2007 and January of 2008, but was denied access both times. The group instead gave the jury permission to view the minutes from each meeting. Upon reviewing the documents, the jury found that the group had failed to specifically address many complaint issues.

The jury also requested to be included in the Humane Society exit briefing, held in March of this year, but was denied again. The jury was able, following the meetings, to interview attendees, but couldn’t legally regard testimony given as anything more than hearsay.

Ultimately, the jury concluded that it couldn’t substantiate or refute the allegations against Animal Services because of the limitations placed on it by the county, stating in its report that, “While county staff may have had the legal authority to deny the Grand Jury’s requests to attend these meetings, not being able to hear these discussions firsthand definitely impacted the jury’s ability to provide accurate oversight necessary to fully respond to the complaints.”

The report requires a response from the Board of Supervisors by Oct. 21.

The report commends the formation of the ad hoc group, as well as the decision by the Board of Supervisors to fund the outside evaluation by the Humane Society.

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