Pensacola Humane Society announces new leadership and plans to reopen

The Pensacola Humane Society has hired Blake White, a member of the nonprofit's board of directors, to serve in "an executive role" as efforts are made to reorganize and reopen the 80-year-old shelter.

"Blake has the skills needed to move PHS forward as a well-structured and efficient operation," a news release posted on the Pensacola Humane Society Facebook page said.

The release said White would bring "expertise" in financial analysis and risk management as well as an understanding of legal matters and human resources to the agency. The board, on which he has served since October, has been accused by employees of diverting approximately $90,000 in restricted funds to cover capital expenses.

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"Restricted funds are monies set aside for a particular purpose as a result of designated giving. They are permanently restricted to that purpose and cannot be used for other expenses of the nonprofit," according to the website of the Foundation Group, a Nashville-based business management consultant.

The restricted funds allegedly raided by the board, according to former staffers, had been set aside for things like emergency vaccines, providing veterinary care in emergency situations for the pets of those unable to pay their own bills and programs that care for stray cats. Those programs suffered as a result of the funding money being removed, employees said.

White will officially begin his new duties at the shelter mid-February, the release said. PHS is also planning to retain the services of "a national expert in animal sheltering" to assist him and the board in reshaping the vision of PHS.

White did not return phone calls seeking comment. After a message was left for him, the Pensacola News Journal was contacted via email by Michael Kelly, an attorney who is representing the board in a lawsuit filed against six former Humane Society department heads. Kelly said that due to pending litigation all board comment should come through him.

The lawsuit, filed Jan. 17, alleges that the six, who were fired or resigned in late December and early January as agency operations imploded, defamed the Pensacola Humane Society and its governing board and also interfered with agency business relationships.

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The lawsuit claims the former employees "intentionally and/or recklessly" published information that resulted in significant financial injury to the Humane Society, its good will and its reputation. Among those fired was Amanda Moore-Joseph, who served as interim executive director until being terminated in mid-December.

Asked whether White's duties would be as a paid executive director or whether his "executive role" entailed some other job description, Kelly deflected.

"Things are in the works. We want to make sure all the proper procedures are done," Kelly said. "We're going to wait a couple weeks before giving a response."

Kelly also declined to say whether White would remain on the board after assuming his executive role.

He likewise chose not to discuss the incoming national expert in animal sheltering.

"All the details on that will come out in the same time frame," he said.

The Pensacola Humane Society has been closed since the first week in January, just days after its staff emptied the shelter and walked out in protest of the actions of the Board of Directors.

Conflict between the staff and directors came to a head over the weekend of Dec. 10 when a group comprised of staff, volunteers and animal fosters that called itself "We The Organization" sent out a press release announcing the decision to "take a stand against the board for mismanagement, misappropriation and violations to bylaws."

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In a separate email sent to the board from Moore-Joseph on Dec. 16, she chronicled a Dec. 8 meeting at which she provided a list to the full board of what she said was "misappropriated restricted funds" totaling $93,586.46. At that meeting, according to the email, Moore-Joseph said she suspected more had been taken from secure funds she did not directly set up in her role as development director.

At a meeting held Dec. 12, board members met with about 90 staff members, volunteers and fosters in an attempt to clear the air following the publication of the We The Organization press release.

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At that meeting board members heatedly denied any misappropriation had taken place and heaped criticism for many of the problems at the Humane Society on Jan Castillo, who had served as executive director ahead of Moore-Joseph.

Before a tape of the meeting was released, Gerald Adcox, the president of the Pensacola Humane Society Board of Directors, told the News Journal Castillo had left the agency on good terms.

At the meeting with staffers, however, Board Member Hank Gonzales had a different message.

"We will acknowledge we made an executive director hire the last time that was not a good choice. That was the board's decision. Sometimes you make good choices, sometimes you make bad choices, that was not our best choice," Gonzales told the group.

"We made a bad hire with Jan. There were some things we were not aware of until she was gone," Gonzales said at another point in the meeting with staff. "There were some things you were not aware of until she was gone."

The staff defended Castillo, especially when it was insinuated that the money removed from restricted funds might be somehow attributable to her.

This article originally appeared on Pensacola News Journal: Pensacola Humane Society announces "executive" hiring, plans to reopen