WHEATFIELD – A lawsuit against the SPCA of Niagara seeks to clean house at the agency – again.
The lawsuit, filed Thursday in State Supreme Court by attorney Peter A. Reese on behalf of his wife and two other SPCA members, asks Justice Richard C. Kloch Sr. to cancel the results of the 2012 election that put the current board of directors in place.
It also attempts to block the implementation of newly amended SPCA by-laws, including a provision that allows only those who pay $1,000 for a “full membership” to vote for directors.
The current board members, the executive director and the shelter director are exempted from having to pay the $1,000, but they would still be allowed to vote.
Up until now, a $25 membership was enough to secure the right to vote.
“No one’s going to sign up for the $1,000. It could well be the only people who can vote are the current directors, who don’t have to pay dues,” Reese said.
“There were reasons [for the $1,000 price], but we really can’t get into anything at this point until this [suit] is dismissed,” Bryan Barish, the president of the board, said Friday.
The board that was in place until last year stepped aside in the wake of a scathing report by Barbara Carr of the SPCA Serving Erie County about needless euthanasia of animals and general mismanagement at the Wheatfield shelter. John A. Faso, the executive director at the time, was fired.
On May 29, 2012, SPCA members were allowed to choose 15 new directors from a slate of 24 candidates.
Reese’s lawsuit called that “a Soviet-style opening of a polling place for the purported election of a pre-selected group of directors.”
“[Attorney] Paul Cambria oversaw that whole process, and as far as we knew, everything was done the way it was supposed to be done,” Barish said. “We will vigorously contest this lawsuit and defend the staff and volunteers, and uphold the good name of the SPCA, the staff and the volunteers.”
Reese said there hasn’t been a full membership meeting in several years. “If we had a membership meeting [in 2012], we could have had a motion to put on Carol Tutzauer, Kelly Casale and other qualified candidates,” he said.
Tutzauer is among the plaintiffs in the suit, along with Ellen Reese and Clara Miller.
Kloch signed an order saying renewals by current members cannot be denied – the order didn’t mention a price – and set a March 14 court date for arguments over the bylaws and Reese’s demand for a new election under the auspices of a court-appointed referee.
Barish said the SPCA has posted a list of achievements under the current board on its website, including a claim that the “no-kill rate” has risen from 29 percent to 99 percent.
“That’s why we were voted in and given the trust to turn this thing around,” he said.
“I don’t believe anything they say. Their numbers are unverified,” Reese countered.
The SPCA website says there will be a meeting for staff and volunteers today. It says identification will be checked because the meeting is not public.