Pittsfield extends Eleanor Sonsini Animal Shelter contract through April 30

The former home of the Eleanor Sonsini Animal Shelter, until 2018, was city property in the Downing Industrial Park.

This story has been modified to correct the name of the board on which two of the Sonsini board members previously have served together.

PITTSFIELD — The City of Pittsfield agreed Thursday afternoon to extend the termination date for its contract with the Eleanor Sonsini Animal Shelter until April 30, allowing the private nonprofit to continue to work out of the city-owned building until that date, according to attorney Richard Dohoney, who represents the city.

The agreement, which was arranged by lawyer Stacey Rossi, who represents the private nonprofit that has operated the municipal shelter, and Dohoney was reached at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, about six days after the contract was initially terminated.

"The City has reached (an) agreement with the Friends of Eleanor Sosini Shelter Inc. that includes an extension of the agreement to April 30th," Dohoney confirmed Thursday evening by email.

The Friends of Eleanor Sonsini Animal Shelter is a private nonprofit organization that was established to care for abused, neglected or homeless animals at the city's municipal shelter.

On March 30, after giving 30 days notice, the city terminated the nonprofit's contract and attempted to take control of the city-owned building in Downing Industrial Park, butnonprofit staff refused to hand over the keys to Pittsfield police.

The shelter has been operating as usual, regardless of the terminated contract, ever since, and the city's spokeswoman has consistently declined to comment on the dispute, calling it a "legal matter."

The agreement for an extension between the city and shelter, which was provided to The Eagle by Rossi, allows the nonprofit to continue operating in the city-owned building at the Downing Industrial Park until 4 p.m. April 30.

Under the city's contract with the nonprofit, stray dogs and cats detained by the city are held for a legally required seven days at the Eleanor Sonsini Animal Shelter, where they were cared for. At the end of the seven days, the shelter takes ownership of the animals and attempts to find them homes.

On April 30, the dogs and cats in possession of the nonprofit will be removed by the nonprofit, but those still being detained by the city will stay, according to the agreement.

The shelter also has contracts to care for animals detained by at least two other municipalities in Berkshire County, according to Rossi.

Outside of its dispute with the city, the nonprofit's chairwoman and treasurer continue to move forward with litigation against three women who attempted to remove them from their positions last year. The extension of the contract comes one day afterRossi, who representsthe chairwoman and treasurer, filed a motion in Westfield District Court to have the three other members of the board of directors, who they are currently suing, officially removed from the corporation.

The chairwoman, Krista Wroldson-Miller, and treasurer, Judith Miller, however, had already replaced the other board members at an annual meeting last week, according to records filed with the state Corporations Division.

"All three had terms expiring," Rossi said of the board members. "They chose not to attend."

Mark Brennan, a lawyer for those board members, however, said that his three clients — Kimberly Arre-Gerber, Lisa Denault-Viale and Gloria McKay — did attend the annual meeting at Wroldson-Miller's office, but when they arrived, the door was locked and letters were taped to the door indicating that they had been dismissed.

After they pounded on the door, Rossi answered the door. Knowing that Rossi is the attorney involved in the ongoing lawsuit, the women didn't feel comfortable being there without their own attorney present, according to Brennan.

"I've told them not to go to any meeting where Ms. Rossi is present," Brennan said.

In November, board members Arre-Gerber, Denault-Viale and McKay held a meeting and voted that Wroldson-Miller and Trumble be removed from their officer positions with the corporations.

In turn, Wroldson-Miller and Trumble sued the three women, claiming the vote was improper.

Central Berkshire District Court Judge William O'Grady allowed the women to temporarily retain their positions while the case is litigated.

On March 28, two days before the city asked the nonprofit to vacate the city property and hand over control, Friends of Eleanor Sonsini updated their board of directors with the state's Corporation Division.

Wroldson-Miller and Trumble continue to be listed as president and treasurer. Other members include Andrea Wilson, of Pittsfield; the shelter's veterinarian Sharon Lynch, of Washington; Dennis Gian, of Dalton; and Rossi's husband Michael Bucci of Bennington, Vt.

When questioned about the potential conflict of interest having Lynch, who is paid by the shelter for her veterinary services, on the board of directors, Rossi said that because the relationship is disclosed, it's "waivable."

"... the Board has had local veterinarians who also provide vet services to the Shelter on it before," Rossi said. "As the relationship is disclosed, it's (a) waivable conflict of interest — if there is any conflict of interest at all."

Rossi, who also served as a member of the board of directors in 2012 and 2013, said her husband was chosen to serve on the board because of his history working for a government agency and corporations.

"Experience is the reason for Michael Bucci joining the board," Rossi said of her husband.

Rossi added that she is not being paid for her representation.

" I am not receiving, nor will I receive, one cent from Friends of Eleanor Sonsini Animal Shelter Inc.," she said. "My representation is pro bono."

Trumble and Gian have served together on the board of directors at the Friends of the Dalton Council on Aging.

The suit filed in November in Central Berkshire District Court has since been moved to Westfield District Court.

The motion for summary judgement, which Rossi filed Wednesday, will be heard on May 1, she said.

In the motion, Rossi asks the judge to declare the November meeting in which board members voted Trumble and Wroldson-Miller out of their offices "invalid" and bar Kimberly Arre-Gerber, Lisa Denault-Viale, and Gloria McKay from being re-elected to the nonprofit's board of directors.

While the women were already replaced at the annual meeting last week, Rossi said that she wanted to address it in the courtroom as well.

"Basically they're two parallel processes," she said. "We can't just ignore the fact that we filed in court."

Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at horecchio@berkshireeagle.com, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.