Philly's animal shelter: No bark, no bite, no transparency | Stu Bykofsky

Vincent Medley, executive director of ACCT Philly, the city animal shelter. (Photo by Stu Bykofsky)

The city’s animal shelter is in the spotlight again, which is pretty much the only light being shed.

On Jan. 26, I submitted a list of questions to ACCT Philly Executive Director Vincent Medley, mostly about finances. The city provides $4.2 million in taxpayer funds to operate the shelter, so questions should not go unanswered.

Instead of a reply, Medley eventually furnished a vague five-page statement the Board of Directors had sent Jan. 31 to “friends, partners, and stakeholders,” defending the shelter and him.

ACCT is the Animal Care and Control Team, located on Hunting Park Avenue in Feltonville. Medley, the fourth leader of the shelter since it was created in 2007, has been embroiled in clashes with volunteers and rescue groups that support it.

ACCT is the target of an online petition posted by Philadelphians for Transparency, a group of animal activists, demanding a forensic financial audit. An earlier petition from an individual called for Medley to be removed.

ACCT also is being criticized by Doug Ross, a certified public accountant who heads the Coalition for Philadelphia Animal Welfare, a citizens committee.

Camera icon Courtesy of Doug Ross
Doug Ross, a certified public accountant, heads the Coalition for Philadelphia Animal Welfare.
(Photo courtesy of Doug Ross)

In addition to what Ross calls “decrepit” conditions at the shelter, he points to a number of apparent irregularities and questionable entries on ACCT’s Internal Revenue Service 990 forms, the financial disclosure forms required of certain nonprofits.

  • The most recent 990 form posted is for fiscal year 2015, which runs from July 1, 2015, to June 30, 2016. The 990 for fiscal year 2016 should have been filed by November.

 

  • The 990 reports show that ACCT had 124 employees in fiscal year 2014 and only 90 in fiscal year 2015. Staff salaries rose 11 percent ($350,000) in 2015 while staffing levels declined 27 percent, says Ross. Employee salaries going up while employees go down is curious.

“I wonder whether either of the two independent accounting firms performed a payroll test to check for salaries, fictitious employees, etc.,” says James A. Largay, emeritus professor of accounting at Lehigh University, whom I asked to review the 990 reports from 2013-15.

  • The 990 forms require the top five employees making more than $100,000 to be listed. In the 990 for 2015, Medley’s salary was shown as $17,692, although that was for only about seven months, from when he was hired until the end of the fiscal year. Ross extrapolates Medley’s annual salary would be $28,264, but that can’t be right. The job was advertised as paying up to $125,000, and I know from previous reporting that the executive director was paid $105,000 in 2008. ACCT should come clean on Medley’s true salary.

Lehigh’s Largay notes that “none of the 990s reported any significant compensation of officers, key employees, etc.”

  • Medley was identified in the 990 as the person with custody of the nonprofit’s financial records. Temple University accounting professor Steven Balsam tells me: “Separation of duties is a basic internal control tool. This does not appear to be best practice.”

 

  • I asked Medley why a list of employees is not posted as in the past. No answer.

A strategic two-year plan issued by ACCT last September listed its “values,” starting with “transparency,” followed by respect, innovation, commitment, empathy, professionalism.

The lack of transparency is compounded by a board of directors that last year closed board meetings to the public.

Ross feels the board plays no active role in advocating more money from the city. At an April City Council hearing, Marsha Perelman, of the Humane Society of the United States, said “Philadelphia is the most poorly funded municipal shelter in America.”

  • A $1 million grant was received in 2015 from Petco, the pet supply retailer, to build an adoption center. There is still no adoption center. Why? What happened to the money?

 

  • From 2014 to 2015, “office expenses” zoomed more than 500 percent, from $21,701 to $147,724. In the same time frame, “other expenses” jumped 250 percent, from $44,708 to $159,482. Why?

The squishy board statement did not answer these questions. It backed Medley’s professionalism and achievements — the percent of animals’ lives saved under his leadership has been inching up — but admitted there had been mistakes in posting the 990 forms on the ACCT website. It said the 990 for 2016 should be posted in March.

The adoption center is in the design stage, it said, and “we hope to go out to bid sometime this summer.”

The board said ACCT utilizes a professional accounting firm, but did not say if analytical reviews are conducted.

The board said last year “it wanted to engage the public better by closing the bi-monthly ACCT Board meetings” and substitute “bi-monthly public sessions, where members of the public could speak directly to board members and receive our full, undivided attention.”

As I previously reported, that had the effect of barring the public from meetings at which some people spoke so directly the board decided to bar them in the future.

It’s time for City Council to take another look at how ACCT is run, how it is spending your money, and the effectiveness of the executive director and the board.