The head of the Petaluma Animal Services Foundation has been accused of mismanagement by current and former employees, who claim the executive director creates a culture that some staff members described as a hostile work environment.
Several employees of the nonprofit that runs the Petaluma Animal Shelter said that Jeff Charter, the executive director, and other staff members use derogatory racial and sexual language in the office, despite complaints that it makes some employees feel uncomfortable.
The organization has a large contract with the city, which is up for renewal next year, and at least one city council member said the accusations are credible and troubling.
The Petaluma Police Department also investigated allegations of financial mismanagement at the foundation and turned its findings over to the board of directors, which launched its own internal audit. The board also brought in an outside firm to review the foundation’s human resources practices.
Charter, 44, who is also a member of the foundation’s board, did not return multiple messages seeking comment and did not respond to a detailed list of questions. He referred all requests for comment to Katherine Wells, the president of the board, who expressed confidence in Charter’s ability to lead the foundation.
“We are confident that our executive director will continue to ensure that the foundation carries out its mission of providing reliable shelter and rescue services to our community,” she said in a statement.
Mark Scott, a senior animal control officer, said he has made multiple complaints to the board and has documented workplace incidents that he found offensive, but so far no changes have been made.
“They say they have looked into all of this, but nothing has been done,” said Scott, who has worked at the Petaluma Animal Shelter for five years. “It’s not normal.”
‘Like walking on eggshells’
Scott, who is black, said Charter and another employee who is related to Charter used racially-charged language in the office to describe him. He said Charter called him “an honorary white guy,” which he found offensive. Scott said Charter’s relative used the N-word several times, and once told him to “shut my chocolate mouth,” he said.
Scott said he complained about the racial language to Charter and to the board, but he said that the behavior continued.
“I’ve written reports about the racism, but nothing was said or done,” he said. “I’d like to see a change in management.”
City Councilman Gabe Kearney, who last year was the council liaison to the Animal Services Advisory Committee, said he was deeply troubled by the internal complaints, especially the alleged racial language.
“The allegations of racial epithets is entirely unacceptable. There is no justification for it,” he said. “There is no reason why, if any staff member uses that kind of language, they should still be there, period. To say that I’m disappointed with the management of the animal shelter is an understatement.”
Interviews with six current and former staff members of the foundation paint a picture of an unprofessional office culture where some workers said Charter and his favored employees denigrated and harassed them. Their comments are supported by documents sent to the board of directors detailing concerning incidents.
Kendall Lewis worked as a kennel technician at the Petaluma Animal Shelter from April 2015 until December last year, when she resigned due to what she said was an office culture that “was almost like high school.” In an interview, Lewis described a workplace where Charter would belittle employees in front of other staff members.