When Chatauqua Allen, a supervisor at theBureau of Animal Regulation and Care
, was shut out of certain meetings, she got the nagging notion that it may have to do with her race.
The feeling was compounded when Allen, who is black, was later demoted from her post as Community Involvement Coordinator, and her pay was cut by about $10,000.
But when she voiced this concern to Mayor Annise Parker's office, she found herself in a meeting with Alfred Moran, head of the Department of Administration and Regulatory Affairs, which oversees BARC.
And in an April meeting, Moran let Allen know in no uncertain terms that, with Parker behind him, Moran would make sure her complaint went nowhere.
The meeting was recorded, and the result allows a glimpse into the machinations of BARC, and how those who rock the boat can find themselves in an uncomfortable position.
If they are employees, they can be fired or demoted; if they are volunteers who see something they don't like and share that with the public, they can find themselves on Moran's list of people who pose a "threat" to the system. And, according to Moran, Parker fully backs this enemies list.
Moran kicks off the meeting by telling Allen, "You've escalated this whole thing to the Mayor. I got that call," following up a short while later with, "You and I don't need to get into some sort of a conflict. Because you won't win that."
But Moran plays both bad cop and good cop: he tells Allen he wants to hear her side of things, and he wants her to know that she can always come to him with her concerns.
"Everybody loves, and I do too, the work you do," Moran says.
Allen explains that, while she works long hours and is more than qualified for her position, she believes that BARC General Manager David Atencio is "basically alienating us all...and really, it's racial to me."
Moran says that the problem is that Atencio "just feels under threat from within....He may have decided who's for him and who's against him."
Moran says Atencio's unease may have something to do with e-mails Moran received from former BARC consultant Gerry Fusco, whom the City of Houston paid $200,000 to address BARC's most severe problems. But as it turns out, Moran wasn't too interested in Fusco's concerns.
"It could be that Gerry sent tons of e-mails to me saying, 'I'm hearing that Dave is screwing this whole place up.' And I finally told Gerry to stand down," Moran says.
He says that, while Fusco is a "friend" of his, "He is done." (Some of Fusco's staffing decisions have been undone since he left. Besides Allen's demotion -- she had been promoted by Fusco -- former Administrative Manager Hope Bennett was fired in April, shortly after she filed animal cruelty and records-tampering complaints with the OIG. As of last week, another Fusco hire, Kennel Director Scott Holloway, is no longer a BARC employee). (Update: Bennett was not hired by Fusco.)
Moran also expresses concern over how Fusco could have been hearing about Atencio in the first place: "The only way he'd have that information is to talk to someone inside." But Moran assures Allen that he doesn't believe she's the mole.
After telling her he will talk to Atencio, and after saying he can restore some of her cut in pay, Moran reminds Allen that it wasn't "smart" to write to Mayor Parker.
"She's got my back. You don't need to take me on," Moran says. To illustrate his bond with Parker, Moran explains at one point, "I was with her last night at dinner...."
Moran also speaks generally of people like Allen -- who have to deal with volunteers -- appearing too "friendly" with BARC volunteers. Such a move may make it appear that the BARC employee is trying to "betray us."
Moran specifically mentions Patricia Cooper, a veterinarian and BARC volunteer who publicly questioned BARC's decision to do in-house surgery on a severely injured dog last March. The dog subsequently died. Moran says that Cooper questioned Chief Veterinarian M'risa Mendelsohn's background in public. While Moran says he welcomes "constructive" criticism, questioning of his medical staff "worries me. It's a threat."
"The Mayor's totally behind me on that," Moran says.
Cooper, who regularly pulls dogs from BARC, wound up on a list of people whose access has been limited. He says that, at one point, Cooper could have been "rehabilitated," but she did so much "damage."
"I want to have a formal list of people that are trying to destroy us," Moran says.
Janice Evans, Mayor Parker's director of communications, would not comment on Moran's statements, citing the pending OIG investigation into Allen's complaint. BARC officials could not comment either.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Allen's attorney, Martin Shellist, stated in an e-mail that "I am offended that any city supervisor or manager would attempt to squelch complaints of illegality at the City through thinly veiled threats or intimidation."
Gerry Fusco wouldn't comment on Atencio's performance, but stated in an e-mail that "They seem to be firing a lot of the folks I put in place."
In addition to being the director of Administration and Regulatory Affairs, Moran is the chairman and CEO of The Moran Group, which, according to its website, helps "companies return to financial and strategic health by improving strategies, organizations, operations and financing." According to his City of Houston bio, he is "a recognized expert in corporate best practices."
He also serves on the board, and chairs the audit committee, of Cornell Companies, a private prison operator that was recently purchased by another private prison firm, the GEO Group.