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WHEATFIELD – Any member of the SPCA of Niagara who wants to vote in the May election for the board of directors will have to pay $1,000 for the privilege.

But current board members, the executive director and shelter director don’t have to pay, board President Bryan A. Barish confirmed Monday.

Attorney Peter A. Reese, an SPCA member and frequent donor, said he expects to challenge the new membership structure in State Supreme Court with a lawsuit to be filed as soon as today.

He’s also asking the State Attorney General’s Office to investigate the legality of the plan.

The current $25 membership, which up until now had brought voting rights, now is called a “sustaining membership” and does not include admittance to the election, according to an announcement posted over the weekend on the SPCA website. For $1,000, a “full membership” includes the right to vote.

“We can deny membership. We can pick and choose members,” Barish said. He said the board has amended the bylaws in the last couple of months with language composed by attorney Michael A. de Freitas. The undated bylaws are posted on the SPCA website, which Barish said shows “transparency.”

“They don’t have to be put out publicly,” Barish said.

Reese contended that the board “is trying to cement itself into power and shed anyone who is trying to reform the organization.”

Last year, following a scandal over excessive euthanasia and mismanagement, the entire SPCA board decided not to run for election, and a new 15-member board was elected. The voting turnout was 120 of the 368 members then on the rolls.

The 15 winners had staggered terms, and five seats are supposed to be available this year.

“The number of members is at the discretion of the board, too,” Barish said. “We could have none; we could have 10. … The board of directors nominates people for the members to vote on.”

Barish said Reese has a “vendetta” against the board because it recently rejected his attempt to renew membership for himself and his wife.

“Yeah, I have a vendetta. That’s why we gave them $6,000 last year,” Reese said.

“He left a check [for $50] at the SPCA a couple of weeks ago, and he was sent a letter saying the membership process hadn’t started yet,” Barish said.

Barish said that all current members will be sent a renewal application this week and that newcomers may apply via the website.

“I don’t know of any SPCAs in the area besides us that have membership,” he said.

Executive Director Andrew Bell resigned earlier this month to return to running his Lewiston pet supply store. Amy Lewis, of Lockport, continues as shelter director, and the SPCA is planning a national search for Bell’s successor.

“We’re going to look for a candidate who’s very experienced in the fundraising aspect,” Barish said.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com