Under Pressure, Cheyenne Animal Shelter Reveals How It Spends Public Money – But Not To The Public

After being pressured by city and county officials for a line-item breakdown of how it increased spending from $320,000 to $800,000 per year in public funding and now wants $1 million per year, the Cheyenne Animal Shelter has finally complied. But the shelter won't release the information to the public.

Clair McFarland

March 18, 20236 min read

Cheyenne shelter
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Amid mounting pressure from public officials and a looming deadline to renegotiate its funding contract, the Cheyenne Animal Shelter has complied and told the Cheyenne City Council and Laramie County Commission exactly how it spends public money.   

But the information had not been made public as of Saturday morning.  

Cheyenne Animal Shelter CEO Britney Tennant told Cowboy State Daily she hopes the expense reports will compel the city and county to reopen contract negotiations after they sent the shelter a letter last week saying its contract would not be renewed.  

“This is the talking point they’ve been using. It’s sort of the block to that negotiation, and now that block doesn’t exist anymore,” said Tennant.  

Cheyenne Mayor Patrick Collins last week that the shelter’s lack of transparency is a main reason for the split.

The shelter’s contract with the city and county this year is for $812,000. That’s more than doubled since the pre-2020 grant of about $320,000, and the shelter had originally projected its request for public money would rise to about $1.74 million annually in the next couple of years.  

Tennant said the shelter now is asking for a fixed rate of $1 million per year in a three- to five-year contract.  

Without a renegotiation, the shelter’s contract is set to expire June 30. The City Council also is set to vote on a lease agreement for its own city shelter building March 27.   

‘Nothing In There We Need To Hide’ 

Collins on Friday said he hadn’t yet had a chance to review the expense reports from Tennant, which were provided Thursday, and planned to do so over the weekend.  

He added in a Saturday interview that he was not yet sure if he would make the reports public. 

“I don’t know if that’s my place,” said Collins.  

Tennant said she’s resisting that outcome.  

“There’s nothing that prevents them, I guess, from making them public,” she said. “We did ask that they hold them in good faith as part of the negotiation.” 

Tennant pointed to the nonprofit shelter’s tax and audit reports, which are public and have been posted to its website in recent days. Tennant said the shelter did a website update last fall and forgot to post the tax reports there at that time, but the documents have been publicly available in other places.  

The last tax report available is from the fiscal year starting 2019. Although there’s a link for fiscal year 2020 reports, it’s a repost of the one starting in 2019. 

The reports break down many categories, including travel and veterinary expenses and salaries in a lump sum. But the reports don’t convey line-item specifics, such as how much money current top administrators make individually.  

“If (the city and county) choose to make these things public, there’s nothing in there we need to hide or defend,” said Tennant of the line-item expenses. “That’s a choice they can make.”  

Tennant said that 37% of the shelter’s funding is from public money. She said the group uses those funds for things that most taxpayers would be comfortable with, though it uses its other sources of revenue for more social-related services.  

Collins last week, conversely, expressed concern that the shelter performs numerous “social services” with public money that aren’t proper uses of taxpayers’ money.  

‘Very Hopeful’ 

Collins said he’s “very hopeful” that the expense reports will help the governments and the shelter renegotiate the contract and partnership they’ve maintained for 50 years.  

“I’m pleased that they changed their mind,” he said. “I’ve always been willing to renegotiate and I’ve talked to them many times here in the last week – so there’s never been a reluctance on our part to talk.”

What Are We Paying For  

Longtime press attorney Bruce Moats told Cowboy State Daily that if the city and county choose to renegotiate the shelter’s contract, they may need to put those transparency controls into the contract itself if they want the shelter to disclose its expenses going forward. 

Moats said third-party contractors working with public money should be willing to disclose how they’re spending the people’s money.   

“You can’t have it two ways. If you’re going to be private, be private. Don’t expect public money. And if you do, you should expect to account for how you spend it,” he said.   

Moats said governments and their contractors should be prepared to account for how public funds are spent – not just in the case of the animal shelter.   

“Help people understand you’re doing a good job, if you’re doing a good job and you’re spending the money right,” he said. “I’d think you’d just cause more problems by denying that information.”  

At A Deficit 

The shelter was at first reluctant to expose its line-by-line expenses publicly, according to a Wednesday statement by Tennant.  

“We have concerns that providing those documents will result in their micromanaging our expenditures, vendor relationships, payroll, etc,” the statement reads, adding that releasing those details would help the city learn how to start its own shelter.   

Shelter spokeswoman Niki Harrison told Cowboy State Daily increases in its government budget requests in recent years are due to many factors, including inflation and making up for a lack of adequate funding in earlier years.  

The shelter has said that it operates at a deficit even with this year’s $812,000 government contract.   

“These questions of transparency have revealed to us ways to improve,” says Tennant’s Wednesday statement. “Under new leadership, our approach to annual reports has also changed and you can expect to see annual financial data in those reports.”   

Not Closing  

Cheyenne Animal Shelter has assured the public that it will not close its doors, even without the government contracts it has enjoyed for 50 years. The shelter is reevaluating its fundraising programs and their cost/benefit, and continues to have “generous philanthropic support” from the community.   

“While the services may change, the mission would remain alive,” says the statement.   

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter