Jul 23, 2014 1:06 AM by Andy Koen

Inspector says he was pressured to not do his job

FREMONT COUNTY - A third party inspector hired by the City of Cañon City to look into accusations of animal abuse and mismanagement at The Fremont County Humane Society said he felt political pressure to not do his job.

Bill Lester, a retired inspector US Department of Agriculture, was picked by the council in December to make unannounced inspections at the shelter and look into the accusations against it.

In his latest report Lester blasts the shelter's board of directors for changing governing documents so as to protect board members' salaries and ensure nepotism among its ranks at the expense of animal care.

"This (Board of Directors) has set up a money train for themselves and for their relatives in the future that has amounted to millions in their pockets and the needles slaughter of tens of thousands of animals," Lest writes.

He says in the five years between 2005 and 2009 that 10,587 animals were killed, an average of 5.8 animals a day. As an agriculture inspector, Lester said he watched over a slaughterhouse in Fremont County to ensure the animals were killed humanely.

"We would have had to kill livestock there over for 3 years to kill as many animals as the humane society killed in one single year," he wrote.

His report describes how the Humane Society was first organized in 1950 by businessman and benefactor Ralph J. Wann. A separate trust was created by Wann is the primary funding source for the shelter.

Initial governing documents prohibited payments to board members, but in 1970 those bylaws were changed. Lester also discovered that in 2010 the documents were changed again to limit board membership to "individuals who are either spouses or descendants of Walter F. Jenks, Ruth V. Stimack and J.A. Carmack."

Stimack, Carmack and Jenks' son Christopher are the three board members who recently received payment.

Lester said the report was not well received by the city.

"I think everybody expected me to write everything is hunky-dory and all good so all the problems would go away and business could go on as usual," Lester said.

He says the city attorney sent a letter and email trying to steer him away some of the negative findings, noting the number of euthanized animals has declined since 2009. It also asserts that the make up of the board of directors reflects the wishes of Wann's widow Hazel.

"He's always pushing me to say nice things, don't say bad things," Lester said.

Cañon City Mayor Tony Greer says no one is trying to influence Lester, but that his investigation went beyond the City's interest in safe treatment animals.

"His opinion seems to have swayed a little bit, the more he has dug into the internal workings of the Humane Society, but as far as the treatment of animals, I think he's pretty objective," Greer said when asked if he still views Lester as a disinterested third party.

Greer believes Lester's conclusions about the shelter board have an important role in the public discussion over the shelter, but don't affect the City's current contract with them for animal control services.

"We wanted to make sure they were doing the job that we hired them to do properly and that they weren't mistreating animals," Greer said.

When the City renewed its $30,000 annual contract with the Humane Society, it required that Lester would be given complete access to the facility and report his findings to council. The agreement also lets the City to backout at any time if it finds that animal abuse is occurring.

Lester says he was asked to investigate all accusations against the shelter and that the broken public trust can't be restored under the current board.

"This isn't going away until all of the allegations are address," Lester said.

The Humane Society announced in June that the board stopped paying themselves and instead will spend the money on the animals. We reached out to the spokesperson Deborah Muehleisen for comment on Lester's report. She said a prepared statement would be provided Wednesday.

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