After a year-long search, the CEO of the Seattle Humane Society was tapped Thursday to lead Los Angeles' Animal Services Department, becoming the sixth executive in a decade to head the embattled agency.
During a tour to a shelter near downtown, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced the nomination of Brenda Barnette to the post - one that has frequently been targeted by activists who accuse the department of destroying too many animals.
Five people have either quit or been forced out of the job in the last 10 years, including one who was hospitalized with seizures related to job pressures.
Some local animal-rights groups immediately complained tha Barnette lacks experience with a large government agency and questioned her commitment to the city's goal of operating no-kill shelters.
But Villaraigosa said Barnette has one of the nation's strongest portfolios in animal shelter management, effective pet adoption and public education.
"Throughout her career, Ms. Barnette has emphasized educating the public on animal issues, using effective communication to promoting adoption and animal welfare issues and involving the community in seeking solutions," Villaraigosa said.
"I am confident she will do an outstanding job in service of the people and animals in the city of Los Angeles."
Barnette has been chief executive officer of the Seattle Humane Society for four years. She previously served as chief executive of the
She said she plans to immediately begin meeting with stakeholders to find common ground on animal issues.
"I am looking forward to getting to know the community and working with them to make this a safe city for animals and the people who love them," Barnette said.
"I want to have a conversation with people to see how we can succeed. It takes more than one person and we need to address all the issues."
If confirmed by the City Council, Barnette will succeed Ed Boks. He stepped down in April 2009 after a turbulent two years that ended when he riled city leaders over a decision to stop issuing vouchers for low-cost spaying or neutering services.
His predecessor was Don Knapp, who held the post for three years. He suffered from seizures that he blamed on job pressures, then sued the city for discrimination after he was fired.
During the year-long search to replace Boks, Villaraigosa met with representatives of the animal rights movement. Several said they were disappointed with Barnette's nomination.
"He is just repeating the mistakes the city made with Boks in naming someone from the private sector," said Phyllis Dougherty of the Animal Issues Movement.
"What Los Angeles needs is someone with experience with public animal shelters. In Seattle, she handled maybe 200 pets a month. That's nothing compared to Los Angeles."
Dougherty also said the Seattle Humane Society is able to "pick and choose the animals they take in. At a public shelter, you don't have that choice."
Daniel Guss, an animal rescuer, also was critical of the choice and Barnette's background as a dog breeder, which concerns those who support spay and neuter programs.
"I wish her well, because it is in the best interest of the animals," Guss said. "However, I am deeply concerned about the mayor once again failing to seek broad public input given his disastrous hire last time."
Barnette said she does not see herself as a professional breeder, although she has bred some dogs and at one time was the legislative liaison for the American Kennel Club in Seattle, an organization which represents breeders.
"I don't really consider myself a breeder," Barnette said. "I am a very strong believer in spay and neutering programs."
City Councilman Paul Koretz, who was involved in interviewing finalists for the post, said he is impressed with Barnette's record in getting animals adopted.
"Her organization has something like a 93 percent adopt rate, which exceeds what one would consider a base line," Koretz said. "She has found ways to get animals adopted, which is what we need if we are to keep our no-kill goal."
Koretz said there were some concerns that Barnette had not worked in a public setting, but he believes she will be able to adapt to the city system and work with the public and employee unions.
Former Animal Services Commissioner Marie Atake said she is concerned over the appointment.
"She is coming from a private shelter where they could refuse to take in some animals," Atake said. "And, their website said they charged $200 for people to drop off animals. That limits the animals they get.
"In Los Angeles, she will be dealing with issues that a private organization doesn't face. Here, they have to deal with animal cruelty and pit bulls and cock fighting and enforcement issues she didn't have to deal with in Seattle.
"We'll have to wait to see if she is up to the job."
Barnette said finding anyone with experience in a department the size of the city's would be difficult.
"There are not many departments larger than this and there aren't many people who have that kind of experience," Barnette said. "I think what the mayor wants to see is my ideas on how to increase adoptions."
Pay for Barnette, who still has to be confirmed by the City Council, has not been finalized. Boks was paid $165,000 a year.