With the appointment of John Aleshire to the executive director position at the Humane Society of Indianapolis, the agency’s already tenuous relationship with the grass-roots animal welfare community here in Indianapolis appears even more strained.
Aleshire was hired July 31 after embattled CEO Martha Boden’s June departure. When he starts Sept. 10, his salary will be $93,500, which is $11,500 less than Boden’s. According to HSI board President David Horth, a key factor in the selection was Aleshire’s extensive experience in nonprofit management, including stints at the Damien Center and the Little Red Door, where he is currently executive director. A self-described “passionate animal lover,” Aleshire sees the potential for excellence at HSI. “My focus,” he says, “is guiding the terrific team that’s already in place in being one of most effective, innovative and collaborative animal shelters anywhere.”
But some local animal welfare activists say the selection process did not follow the steps originally laid out by the board, and many are disappointed in the result. “The whole thing was done out of the public eye,” says Greg Brush of advocacy group Feral Bureau of Indiana. “In a lot of ways that handicaps Aleshire … He may be the perfect man for the job for all I know, but it raises a lot of questions.”
Warren Patitz of the watchdog group Move to Act says he has nothing against Aleshire, but also questions the hiring process. “Unfortunately, he’s heading an agency that was trying to get its direction of integrity aligned, and instead persisted with the habit of feeding the public misinformation.”
Patitz notes that Horth and the HSI board had indicated that an interim director would be hired and that the executive director position would be posted on the HSI Web site, neither of which happened. He sees the lack of promised grass-roots representation on the search committee as another betrayal. Further, the salary difference between the new director and Boden was to be at least $30,000, according to earlier reports quoting Horth.
Perhaps most egregiously, Patitz says, the community was told the agency sought a candidate with animal welfare experience, which Aleshire lacks.
From Brush’s perspective, “Even if he’s a very passionate, devoted person, he still doesn’t have years of experience in the animal welfare industry. It’s a very singular, specific kind of world, and he’s going to have a lot of learning curve to overcome.”
Aileen Worden, an engineer who routinely spends her off hours rescuing and transporting animals to give them a chance at life, says she expressed interest in the position at the urging of others in the animal welfare community. Along with other activists, she had talked with Horth about nationally known animal advocate Nathan Winograd’s No Kill Equation, the first rule of which is to hire a shelter director with a passion for saving animals.
“He said he was not looking for a ‘numbers person’ this time,” she recalls. “He was looking for someone who fit the bill in terms of being a passionate director.” Though she was not seeking a career change, Worden decided that the opportunity to make a change for Indy’s animals was worth the pay cut. “I was willing to do it for the amount he quoted in the paper … He seemed enthusiastic about my interest in the position.”
The announcement about Aleshire came as a shock to Worden, given that the position was never posted and that her inquiries went unanswered despite her understanding that Horth was seeking someone with “in-the-trenches” experience.
Regarding Worden’s interest in applying, Horth says, “I had a meeting with Aileen and she expressed interest in the job, and I encouraged her to apply. The last I spoke to her she was updating her resume, and I did not hear from her again. At no time did I do anything to obstruct her ability to submit her resume or apply.”
He notes that the search committee initially did include Worden and another grass-roots animal activist, but when both indicated interest in the position, they were unable to continue serving on the committee. “In the meantime,” he says, “we had started recruiting [Aleshire] quite heavily,” so the board did not pursue additional representation from the community.
On the salary issue, Horth admits that in earlier interviews, he did not give himself enough “wiggle room.” However, “John’s salary is a very good value for the Humane Society and consistent with his responsibility,” citing the organization’s $2.5 million budget and 37 employees.
There was no need to post the position on the Web site, he says, because of the considerable response to the vacancy. The board interviewed about 10 of the 196 applicants. Regarding the interim directorship, he says, “I have been serving as the interim director, and the cost has been free.”
Horth downplays the impact of Aleshire’s animal welfare experience level. “There are specific animal welfare issues that John will need to learn, and he has the capacity to do that; he certainly demonstrated that capacity at the Little Red Door, where I’m sure he wasn’t an expert on cancer before.
“The mistake I made was applying a business approach to this [hiring process] as opposed to a social service approach, and I didn’t communicate well in that process. We identified the person we wanted and went after him, and we’re very happy about that.”
Despite the controversy surrounding his hiring, Aleshire has begun to connect with grass-roots groups, including Brush’s Feral Bureau of Indiana. “I’m going to learn their take on the animal welfare piece … I hope to get us fighting animal welfare issues and not each other,” Aleshire says.
He has read Winograd, and considers No Kill a “worthy goal.” Horth says the board is exploring using Winograd as a consultant, an idea originally proposed by Move to Act.
Stacey Coleman of advocacy group Indy Pit Crew says Aleshire needs to work hard to regain the grass-roots organizations’ trust, but she is optimistic. “He does have a history of fixing not-for-profits that are in trouble, and that certainly fits the description of HSI. If he can … make the changes that need to be done from a not-for-profit standpoint and still work with the community to understand animal welfare issues, that’s a formula for success.”