A letter from the Chair of The Wildcat Sanctuary Board of Directors – Accord with AG ensures future of 100+ animals

By | April 22, 2014 at 5:27 pm | No comments | General

A letter from the Chair of The Wildcat Sanctuary Board of Directors:

You may have seen recent news reports about an investigation into The Wildcat Sanctuary by the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office. While we’ve tried to keep you as informed as we could in the past few months about the fact that there had been complaints against TWS, until now we couldn’t share details about these particular proceedings.

The TWS Board of Directors has entered into an agreement with the Attorney General’s Office that responds to the concerns raised in the investigation. We realize that you may hear specifics about the investigation and we want to respond.

First, we want to assure you that the cats have always been and will always be our first priority. Our mission is to provide the best of care and this sanctuary is a national role model both for public safety provisions and animal well-being.

Second, we want to express our heartfelt thanks to the donors who have stood by us while we grow and learn how to be even better. Without the donors who love and give to these animals, we could not accomplish what we have during the past decade. We can’t even begin to explain the depth of our gratitude for your generosity.

I don’t want to forget our volunteers either. The work we ask for is not easy. And yet this core group of animal lovers has stood by TWS through tough times. Thank you.

The Board began working to address issues that had come to our attention even before we knew there was an Attorney General investigation. We put safeguards in place to ensure that every dollar donated to the Wildcat Sanctuary is appropriately used to care for the cats. We began revising policies. We went through a major reorganization in our staffing positions to be more effective and efficient. We took these steps in a manner that would ensure the animals in our care and TWS were protected and not compromised. But we have even more work to do, and the results of the investigation will help us be focused.

The Attorney General’s investigation concluded some of the following:

  • That the TWS credit card was used to purchase personal items for the Executive Director
  • That TWS had mistakenly paid $550 of personal property taxes for the Executive Director (her home is on property surrounded by sanctuary property).
  • That charitable assets had been spent on DVD’s, hair products, books and other personal items
  • That some double reimbursements were made to the Executive Director for expenses
  • That some items paid for were not sufficiently documented—cell phone costs, propane for the Executive Director’s home and home improvements, including a dog run and gravel for the driveway
  • That there were missing receipts for some reimbursed expenses
  • That TWS lacks sufficient policies regarding the type of expenses that are reimbursable
  • That TWS paid for executive coaching for the Executive Director without documented approval by the board
  • That the Board of Directors had been informed by previous audits that the organization lacked comprehensive internal controls
  • That bookkeeping and financial policies for the organization were inadequate

I want to touch on a few of the allegations:

  • The Board of Directors absolutely should have provided thorough oversight and direction regarding financial management
  • The property taxes in question were paid by mistake and have since been repaid to TWS
  • The board had approved paying propane expenses because the Executive Director’s house was being used to store equipment, house some sanctuary animals, and was a frequent setting for business meetings, but we failed to document the approval
  • The Board should have established a policy outlining the circumstances under which TWS will provide the cell phone stipends and executive coaching that were both reasonable and necessary expenses
  • There are now policies and processes in place to prevent the comingling of funds when using the TWS credit card

Additional policies and processes are in development, including those requiring detailed documentation of all purchases made on behalf of TWS. This includes everything from building materials for a dog run that houses and provides heated enclosures for both TWS’ rescue dogs and a second run for employees’ pets, to a lamp for the intern trailer, to scented candles to cover the smell of kitty litter.

While the Board of Directors does not agree with many of the findings by the Attorney General, we will be the first to admit we have a lot of improvements to make and are therefore agreeable to all of the terms for improvement set by the AG.

The Wildcat Sanctuary grew from about a dozen cats on 10 acres to more than 100 lions, tigers, cougars and more on 40 acres almost overnight. That is how great the need was. We thought we knew what we were doing, but in fact a very smart group of people comprising the Board of Directors simply failed to provide all of the oversight, guidance and resources needed for the Executive Director to run a sound business operation.

Most of the board is new and are not accountable for the past. We’ve had a lot of comings and goings in recent months. But I have been with the Wildcat Sanctuary Board of Directors for years. And I should have known better.

I am now the current chair of the board. But for years I did not serve as an officer, I was just the communications director. I worked on media relations, fundraising and events. I left it to others with more expertise than I have to take care of everything else. That wasn’t fair and it wasn’t responsible. I will own that failing.

So, what now?

Well, we’ve done a lot of work already and we have a lot more to do. We’ll weather the inevitable negative media and keep taking excellent care of the cats. We’ve already turned to experts to help us develop stronger policies and procedures. We’ll diligently comply with everything being asked of us by the agreement with the Attorney General. We’re working to add skilled board members. And we will strive mightily to keep the trust of our donors.

As I’ve already said, I’ve been with The Wildcat Sanctuary board of directors for many years. I wouldn’t stay if I didn’t believe that this is a stellar nonprofit organization with integrity and tremendous heart. We’ve made mistakes that we can fix. We can be even better and we owe it to our donors to do just that.

Please don’t hesitate to ask me anything. Here is my personal email and my home phone number. Give me a call. And thank you again for being the lifeblood of an organization that gives captive cats a chance to live wild at heart.

Gail Plewacki



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