The Oregon Coast Humane Society (OCHS) held its most recent board meeting Thursday, Sept. 21, at Laurelwood Community Center.
The board has been under scrutiny from some OCHS members, volunteers and Florence residents during the last few months due to concerns over shelter management and board leadership.
The OCHS Board responded to rigorous questioning and volatile crowd responses that took place at last month’s meeting by requesting police presence for this latest meeting.
Though the session began with fewer members of the public in attendance than last month, the tension in the room was still tangible, due in part to the defensive tone of board members during the meeting.
The meeting was chaired by Board President Robert Bare, who spoke briefly about the organization’s mission while ignoring what many felt was a need to explain the reason for a police presence.
With Shelter Manager Tanya Garrett, Public Outreach Coordinator Danielle Dickson, Treasurer Deborah LaMonica and Thrift Store Manager Kat Cunningham not present at the meeting, Bare seemed unprepared in his attempts to give reports covering their areas of responsibilities.
Bare was at times dismissive and unresponsive to questions or comments from the audience, responding with a level of irritation when pressed.
Board member Ed Gervais also appeared unconcerned with the ongoing tension between the crowd and the board, making a statement that many in attendance later said they found rude and combative.
“I would like you all to notice the pictures over here showing the grounds and the kennels that we have in the shelter,” Gervais said. “And I wish the people who have Facebook articles would take their ‘crap’ — and that’s what it is — take those crappy … staged pictures off their Facebook.”
Perhaps the most uncomfortable point in the evening were comments made by a woman who was not initially introduced or known by many at the meeting. After she spoke in a particularly confrontational way, the woman was asked by a volunteer, “Excuse me, but who are you?”
The woman then introduced herself as Diane Raven, not explaining that she was a new board member or why she had taken the lead in countering the questions from the audience.
The most inflammatory of her remarks came when she encouraged members who were unhappy with the situation at OCHS to “Bring it on” because the shelter had nothing to fear from State Humane Society inspections or member visits.
Raven’s response brought a lot of discourse from the crowd, with one member who identified herself as a long-time volunteer saying, “I don’t think anyone that you have referenced here is political, and I think the terms you used were not complimentary ... and I resent them. And many people here, myself included, are only interested in animal welfare.”
After taking a moment to compose herself, the woman continued.
“Many of us have been involved for years and know what has happened recently, and feel it is just years of mismanagement come to a boil. If the entire board was a little bit more willing, or capable of being more professional and open to conversations, you might have had 25 people supporting you instead of 25 people trying to find another solution,” she said.
Shortly thereafter, Raven informed attendees of a policy change taking effect immediately that no longer allows individual volunteers to take dogs to the beach for walks.
This change in policy was due to liability concerns, according to Raven, which led to groans of disagreement from the attendees.
The need for the presence of armed police at the meeting was brought up once again by one attendee, who was told, in a roundabout way, that the board felt the unruly nature of the previous board meeting mandated a police presence.
The response led to more spontaneous outbursts from the audience.
The absence of Shelter Manager Garrett and Public Outreach Coordinator Dickson was also discussed quietly in the crowd, but not by the board, as the meeting once again splintered into upheaval. Some audience members then asked aloud why Garrett and Dickson were not in attendance.
In response, Bare stopped and interrupted the unrecognized speakers in the audience and adjourned the meeting.