WEST OCEAN CITY — With the clock ticking on the formal date of her resignation on Nov. 30, Worcester County Humane Society Director Kenille Davies this week shed more light on the events that led to her alleged forced departure after leading the facility for the last 37 years.
Two weeks ago, Davies announced at an annual fundraising dinner that she was stepping down as director of the Worcester County Humane Society after founding the organization in 1977 and serving as its director ever since. She made it clear she was being forced out by select members of the organization’s 11-member Board of Directors.
Up until Wednesday’s interview, Davies has provided little in the way of details of the events leading up to her retirement, preferring instead to wait until after it became official on Nov. 30. However, with information and allegations swirling in the court of public opinion, Davies told The Dispatch she was not resigning of her own volition, but rather was stepping down in an attempt to shield some members of the Board of Directors, many of whom have been long-time friends and volunteers at the shelter, from a protracted and expensive legal battle.
“They wanted me to stand up and say I was just retiring,” she said. “Well, I’m not retiring. I am being forced out. The reason I am being forced out is because I didn’t want to see all of the people involved hurt be threats of lawsuits and intimidation and court orders and losing money.”
While a majority of the board voted to accept Davies’ resignation, the long-time director said this week a handful of board members, maybe as few as three of the 11-member board, had orchestrated her forced resignation. While the lines of communication between Davies and her supporters and the some of the board members had started disintegrating as early as last spring, the issue came to a head with a meeting in July and a subsequent request for her resignation.
Davies said the effort to get her to step down after 37 years on the job was couched at first as a friendly attempt to get her to ease back and enjoy life and her family, but quickly turned to intimidation and aggression in the form of a threatening letter.
“On July 10, I was told, not asked, to come up front,” she said. “That’s how they were treating me by then, like I was told to go to the principal’s office.”
According to Davies, the conversation with one of the board members opened with a discussion about how long Davies had been with the Humane Society and if she was ready to take some time off, maybe step back and spend some time with her family.
“I looked at her and wondered why she was saying that,” said Davies. “She went on and on about it and I said if I want to do something, I’ll do it. I’m so used to working that it’s part of my life. She then said, ‘well, I’ll get to the point. I’d like you to resign.’ I was so shocked. I thought a second and then said I’m not resigning. She said ‘well then, I have a letter to give you and it’s going to be a hard read.’ I’ll never forget that.”
Davies said she took the sealed letter in a blank envelop and didn’t open it immediately. She told the board member she would take it home and read it later. She never asked who it was from or where it came from.
“I sat down and I didn’t know what I was going to look at or what was going to happen, but I read it and it was very disturbing,” she said. “There was not one nice thing in the seven pages. I didn’t know what to do. There was no heading on it and no signature, no letter head, nothing. I just assumed it came from those three board members.”
Davies said the letter outlined an alleged long pattern of mismanagement, hints of fiscal malfeasance and even itemized lists of incidents involving animals.
“The content was just malicious,” she said. “You did this, or you didn’t do that. It was full of petty stuff. There were charges of me being cruel to animals, which anyone who knows me knows I’m not. It said I wasn’t a good manager and that I just took the money and spent it really quick.”
Ironically, Davies said around the same time the Worcester County Humane Society was in the middle of a regularly planned audit and the organization’s financials appeared to be in order.
“We were in the middle of being audited and everything was going well,” she said. “The auditor said everything looked good. The only thing he said was we had to replace the money that was taken from the restricted fund.”
The restricted fund mentioned by the auditor was part of a trust dedicated to the Worcester County Humane Society by a private donor several years ago. The principal was restricted, but the endowment generated as much as $50,000 a year in interest when the economy was going strong. The interest revenue was used by the Humane Society for wide variety of operating funds from food and supplies to vet bills.
When the recession hit and the economy slowed, that source of income from the interest on the endowment dried up. The board then decided to use some of the CDs they had set up through the endowment to pay for bills and other operating costs for the shelter.
“We had put so much into the CDs and we took it out of the CDs and paid the vet bills and everything else that had to be paid,” she said. “We cleared our debt, which is what happened. They knew I had gone to get the CD out.”
Davies suggested the board members were well aware of the need to use some of the funds in the CDs to pay the shelter’s bills and used that as a catalyst for preparing her demise as director.
“I think it was a railroading,” she said. “I think they were after this for a while and I’m very saddened by it because I really thought they were friends.”
Davies said it was around that time that Silvia and Bob Winegard started to appear in the picture. The Winegards are Humane Society members who occasionally made contributions to the shelter. Davies said this week she believes the Winegards have a desire to take over the shelter and the three board members were doing their bidding.
She said the content of the letter and its sudden appearance without a letterhead or a signature suggested the Winegards were the origin of the document. Shortly after the letter was delivered, some of the board members seeking Davies’ resignation all attained the services of attorneys.
There was a five-hour meeting with the various parties during which it came to light that Bethesda attorney James Hammerschmidt, who represents the Winegards, was the author of the letter. Davies suggested the allegations spelled out in the letter authored by Hammerschmidt on behalf of the Winegards were unfounded because she had never met the attorney and barely knew the Winegards. Instead, she suggested the three board members who were seeking her resignation were behind the inflammatory document.
“When I found out who was behind the letter, I was just totally shocked,” she said. “At that meeting, I was told they wanted to pay for an employee to run the shelter, but only as long as I was out of the picture. I was not to be involved whatsoever. After 37 years with the Humane Society, they wanted to just wipe me out. I don’t know who that person is they want to replace me with, but I think it’s just a front.
For their part, the Weingards released a statement on the matter earlier this month.
“The well-being of the animals at the Worcester County Humane Society should be and is the paramount concern of the WCHS,” the statement reads. “Several board members tried for months to exercise their fiduciary right within the organization. They viewed the financial and managerial questioning not only their right but also their fiduciary responsibility. The total years these Ocean City board members have voluntarily serviced the board and cared for the animals total 50 years combined. They were not going to stand by and watch the financial collapse of the shelter that provides such a valuable service to the community and cares for the animals that are dear to their hearts. They looked forward to the difficult work ahead of getting their financial house in order as well as other necessary management improvements including the hiring of a new director.”
The Winegards statement characterizes the decision to accept Davies’ resignation as a move in a new direction.
“The continuing effort cannot succeed at a no-kill shelter without proper management and appropriate institutional controls,” the Winegards’ statement reads “It is our hope that the mission of the WCHS, to continue to operate the WCHS shelter as a no-kill shelter, is not derailed by the inaccurate and imprudent comments of the uninformed who appear to be placing themselves before the mission of the society. Our primary interest has always been that the shelter operate for many years to come, and we hope that the community lends its support to do what is right for animals.
While she didn’t release the entire letter, Davies this week read aloud one particularly intimidating section.
“In the interest of all of the shelter’s constituents, we hope the transition can be done smoothly and without the need for formal action or court intervention,” the letter reads. “In particular, we demand that you do not destroy or remove any shelter property including the animals, or retaliate against or attempt to intimidate any of the shelter volunteers, board of directors, employees or members or harm any of the animals. We request that you submit a resignation letter to the board within five days of the date of this letter.”
Davies said the shelter’s fiscal situation has always been transparent and there were no hints of any financial malfeasance. She also said the very board members who have led the effort to oust her were privy to all of the organization’s financial information.
“These people have been to my house on numerous occasions and they’ve helped file things and helped look at the bills,” she said. “Then they hand me this letter out of the clear blue sky. I don’t think I’ll ever get over this letter. I think they have tried so hard to destroy what I have done and taken away my whole life.”
Another allegation is that Davies ran the shelter autonomously without input from the board. The letter suggests there were never official board meetings held. While she acknowledges there were rarely board meetings officially called to order with minutes taken and Robert’s Rules followed, the board members frequently conducted informal meetings.
“The three other board members could have said let’s have a board meeting,” she said. “We always considered working together a board meeting. All of us worked together in the same building and if we had a problem, maybe there was a sick cat or a sick dog or something like that, we’d discuss it there. At least half the board was there all the time and we considered those discussions board meetings.”
Davies said this week she has concerns over what will become of the shelter she helped create and has developed and nurtured for the last 37 years.
“We have no idea what’s going on in there now or what’s going to happen when I’m not there after a couple of weeks,” she said. “The truth is, I don’t feel safe. I don’t feel comfortable about the animals in there. We are no-kill and it’s been that way since the beginning. It’s just a shame that strangers can walk in and take over. They really have no idea what goes on there day in and day out.”
She said what hurts the most, perhaps, is the apparent discounting of her efforts on behalf of the shelter for over three decades. She also defended the shelter’s current financial situation.
“I’m taking the blame and that’s fine, but I’m the one who loves those animals,” she said. “Whether they like that or not, that’s the only reason I was ever there. They act like I never did a single thing right or that we’re broke. Apparently I did something right. They’re not broke. I never failed to pay the bills and we never failed to keep on going. I hope they’re all real proud of themselves.
Meanwhile, attorneys for the board of directors on Thursday released their own formal statement on the situation. The statement appears to reflect the opinions of the three board members who have led the effort to remove Davies, including Kelly Austin, Sandra Mitchell and Beverly Sweitzer, although it is headed as a statement on behalf of the entire board.
“We do not believe that a public airing of any grievances or concerns regarding the departure of Ms. Davies will advance the needs of the shelter, nor serve Ms. Davies’ reputation,” the statement reads. “As has been noted in the media and other public forums, there were clear reasons based on objective evidence regarding the management of the shelter, particularly with respect to financial matters, that led to Ms. Davies’ resignation. The shelter needs to be rescued.”
The statement continues, “Of paramount importance is that the shelter be enabled to operate efficiently and in a fiscally-sound manner as we move forward,” the statement reads. “For this reason, we choose to refrain at this time from publically detailing the factors that precipitated Ms. Davies’ resignation. We would hope that after November 30, Ms. Davies discontinues carrying on a public diatribe about the many transgressions that led to her resignation. It only hurts the animals and the shelter she professes to love. The members of the shelter that advocated for the resignation respect and admire Ms. Davies’ many years of devotion and service, but for the good of the shelter, the animals and the community it serves, feel the time is right to turn the page with new management and a renewed focus on serving the animals and the community of Ocean City and Worcester County.”