(Nov. 8, 2013) Following threats of legal action over alleged financial misconduct, long-time Worcester County Humane Society head Kenille Davies will be resigning her post at the end of the month, with sources saying that the entire organization may be compromised by the departure of its founder.
At last Friday’s well-attended Humane Society benefit at Adolfo’s, Davies announced her resignation and, without going into too much detail, the situation surrounding it.
“This is what happens when you get people in … who can afford to pay to get you out,” Davies said.
Davies was joined by her son-in-law, Hal Adkins, whom she had asked to speak on her behalf. Adkins is the public works director for the Town of Ocean City, but was not speaking in any official capacity that evening.
“Kenille is not retiring. She is resigning under duress,” Adkins said. “Certain people chose to take what were petty issues … and put the screws, so to speak, to Kenille.”
Although none of Ocean City Today’s sources would speak on the record, given the tenuous legal situation involved, the intrigue surrounding Davies’ ouster has been widely acknowledged.
In essence, two members of the society’s board, who have had long-standing differences with Davies, leveraged a recent incident of alleged fiscal mismanagement against her.
According to sources, the humane society had at one point been bequeathed a substantial sum of money, nearly $800,000, from the estate of a Snow Hill woman who had passed away. This money, per the deceased’s will, was to be set up as an endowment to the humane society.
Under the arrangement, the money was to be invested and the subsequent capital gains used to fund the organization’s operations. The principal investment, however, was to be untouched.
However, the attorney responsible for the estate may not have made it clear that the bequest was under such a restriction, and simply signed off on the transfer with no oversight.
At the very least, sources say, Davies and her board did not fully grasp the purpose of the funds, or the gravity of the stipulations attached.
“You’re talking about a group of elderly volunteers who are great with animals, but terrible at administrative issues,” a source said.
According to those close to the situation, two of the board members have been critical of Davies for some time, and took the opportunity to look into the organization’s financials. After hiring a Baltimore-area attorney, they discovered that the society had spent roughly $300,000 of the endowment.
The society had been cleared on all recent audits, likely because the money had been spent appropriately on necessary items, such as dog food and veterinary bills. But regardless of the good intentions, the group had violated the estate by dipping into the endowment.
“They shouldn’t have tapped into it, but at least they used it for the animals,” a source said. “Unfortunately, you had two people who were already gunning for Kenille and escalated the situation to use it against her.”
Subsequently, Davies and the other nine members of the board were notified that they would face legal action from the other two.
After consulting with an attorney, Davies was told that she and the other members could be liable for the $300,000. However, if Davies stepped down, the matter would not be pursued, per an offer from the two members’ attorney.
“We did not have the money to get a lawyer involved for me or the other board members,” Davies said Friday. She declined to elaborate on the case any further until after Nov. 30, when her separation from the organization will be complete, for fear of further legal complication.
“Kenille has been put in a situation where she would have to legally defend herself with her own money, and she’s not in a position to do that,” Adkins said.
Davies receives a salary of $15,000 per year for her work as the humane society director. By all accounts, she works more than a full-time schedule, but this arrangement is entirely informal, as is the case with much of the humane society’s organization.
Technically speaking, Davies is the only legally recognized member of the group’s board, since it has never held a charter-recognized general meeting since Davies founded the group in 1977. This lack of formal accountability, sources say, is why her opposing board members were able to present a strong case against Davies.
Further, it was discovered during the legal battle that the endowment funds might have been given to the humane society in error.
The will read that the money was to be given to the “Worcester County Humane Society, founded 1954.” Such an organization does not exist, but was apparently overlooked by the attorney handling the distribution.
Should legal authorities determine that the bequest went to the wrong party, the money would have to be returned to the estate, for re-distribution to those other charities in the will that are still in existence.
This will leave the humane society in a tenuous position. According to sources, most of the board will depart with Davies at the end of the month, leaving the organization in the control of just a pair of board members.
Further, the organization will be stripped of the funds on which it relies.
“I hope the public here can help in some way, because I feel sorry if the shelter is going to be run by people like that,” Davies said.
In her remarks Friday, Davies said she had been appalled by the behavior of those who had ousted her.
“When you get a seven-page letter that slanders you and then says at the end, ‘when you leave smoothly, please don’t harm the animals,’ that hurts more than anything,” she said.
Further, the society also runs the risk of having its lease with the Town of Ocean City terminated.
The Worcester County Humane Society animal shelter was built in 1989 by the city, on city-owned property adjacent to what, in 1991, would become Eagle’s Landing golf course.
Since then, city officials have wanted the humane society to relocate to make more space for the municipal course. The society’s lease will be up for renewal soon, and the turmoil could give the city a reason to put a stop to the agreement.
If that were to happen, the society would likely cease to exist. But that would leave the door open for the establishment of a new, independent humane society on another property.
“They have won the battle, but I assure you, with the friendship that is here this evening on behalf of Kenille, they may well lose the war,” Adkins said.