Pueblo, Colorado City Councilman Condemns Firing of Volunteer by Pueblo Animal Services for Writing
Pueblo City, Colorado Councilman Chris Nicoll has distributed a press release condemning the termination of a volunteer at Pueblo Animal Services (PAS). The volunteer's alleged offense? Writing a thoughtful, well-written and processional letter to the editor that was published in the Pueblo Chieftain, the City's local paper.
The volunteer in question is Shanna Farmer and her termination by PAS raises several legal questions, and are likely a violation of federal law, because Constitutional law prohibits any government-funded agency from doing anything to infringe on anyone's Constitutionally guaranteed rights.
Making Farmer's termination even more troubling is the fact that her op-ed was written as a response to one penned by City Councilwoman Lori Winner, who, it turns out, is also on the Advisory Board for Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region (HSPPR), which runs Pueblo Animal Services. The two roles played by Winner in the ongoing controversy surrounding PAS seems, according to many, an overt conflict of interests, with various people saying Winner should have recused herself from all of the conversations about PAS operations being held by the City, rather than taking a prominent, public role in defending the shelter. It is worth noting that Winner did not disclose her relationship to HSPPR during City Council meetings about PAS, nor was it disclosed in the op-ed piece she wrote for the Chieftain.
Councilman Nicholl's press release is provided below:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Pueblo City Councilman Chris Nicoll is calling for the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region, the group managing Pueblo Animal Services (PAS), to reconsider their recent alleged dismissal of Pueblo Animal Shelter Volunteer Shanna Farmer for authoring an Op-Ed letter that ran recently in Pueblo Chieftain’s Ideas Section.
Shortly after publication of the letter Ms. Farmer was allegedly contacted by the local animal shelter on August 30th and advised that her volunteer services were no longer needed, specifically due to the content of her letter recently published in the Pueblo Chieftain. Ms. Farmer’s letter was allegedly written as a response to an earlier letter submitted by Pueblo City Councilwoman, Lori Winner, who also serves as a PAS Advisory Committee member. Winner’s letter that ran several weeks prior in the Pueblo Chieftain and was specifically critical of No Kill shelter practices and a local group calling themselves Reform Pueblo Animal Services.
Farmer, who advocates for no kill shelter practices, had recently started volunteering walking dogs and serving as a general volunteer at the shelter and was surprised that her counterpoint letter in response to Councilwoman Winner’s letter was grounds for her dismissal. Farmer claims she simply presented her views in a professionally written letter and made recommendations where the shelter could improve to reduce their numbers of healthy and treatable pets that are killed under current shelter practices. Ms. Farmer allegedly was told that her use of the word “Killed” to describe the practice that PAS staff likes to refer to as “euthanized” was one point of contention with her letter. Farmer was also allegedly told that her views were out of alignment with the shelter’s mission and that her public comments need to fall within what PAS deems to be positive and constructive, as defined in their volunteer handbook.
Ms. Farmer was saddened by the decision and hopes to continue helping animals at the shelter as a volunteer. She feels that her services are needed because PAS needs as many volunteers as possible. She says that she does a good job and has kept her views to herself while volunteering. She explained that she wrote her letter in her name, on her own free time, and away from the shelter.
“This is a case of a person who was allegedly fired, not for a job she’s paid for, but for a job that she volunteers and loves. I’m concerned that the message this sends is one of intimidation and that it’s okay for a City Council or Board Member to submit a letter, but that a volunteer does not enjoy to same rights to freely express their views on their own time. I believe that submitting a letter to the editor represents one of the most basic freedoms that we enjoy as Americans, and the editorial page should be a marketplace of ideas, free of intimidation.” Nicoll said.
Nicoll believes that Pueblo Animal Services should extend an apology to Ms. Farmer and should consider inviting her back to continue serving Pueblo’s animals as a volunteer. He suggests that a better approach would be for PAS to simply submit their own letter to the editor that expresses their perspective, and how it differs from both Ms. Farmer’s and Councilwoman Winner’s. “This heavy handed approach by the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region towards a Pueblo resident’s free speech and ideas simply does not align itself with Pueblo’s values.” Nicoll said.