Profile picture of animal shelter director giving the finger raises questions

Kate Meghji, executive director at the Lawrence Humane Society, holds one of the shelter's dogs up for adoption in this March 2015 file photo.

An anonymous letter sent to city leaders is raising questions about the propriety of personal social media posts of people who are in public fundraising positions.

The letter expressed concern about Lawrence Humane Society Executive Director Kate Meghji’s recent Facebook profile picture, in which she is raising her middle finger to the camera. The letter questions the judgment behind the post, noting the city’s funding to the Humane Society and the ongoing campaign to raise public donations to build a new $7.5 million animal shelter.

Meghji, who has since changed the profile picture, said she is sorry if anyone was offended by the image of her middle finger.

“I think that I could have shown better judgment in having that as my profile picture,” Meghji said. “It was a picture my brother took of me at a family event, and I of course apologize if I offended anybody by it.”

The profile picture was on Meghji’s personal Facebook page, but profile pictures are public regardless of privacy settings. The Humane Society is a not-for-profit organization, but receives annual financial support from the city, which is required by state law to ensure stray animals are impounded.

Kate Meghji

The city plans to provide a $2.5 million grant and a $2.5 million loan toward construction of the new animal shelter. The Humane Society is ultimately responsible for $5 million of the cost and has been raising donations publicly since April.

Meghji, who has been at her post since 2014, said she thinks her personal life is separate from her public and professional life.

“I think it’s important to look at the quality of work that we do here at the Humane Society and all of the positive impacts that we’ve made in the last few years,” Meghji said.

City leaders took a similar view. Assistant City Manager Diane Stoddard said the city received the letter, but she thinks matters like these are best handled between an employer and employee. She said the Humane Society is an important vendor.

“I think the important thing to know is that the city does receive quality services from the Humane Society and we don’t have any indication that that service level will be affected in any way,” Stoddard said. “We understand that the capital campaign is underway and going well at this point, and we hope that that goes to completion.”

Mayor Leslie Soden did not immediately return phone calls from the Journal-World regarding the topic. In addition to City Hall, the mayor and the Journal-World, the letter indicated that it was sent to the Humane Society board of directors. But board chair Katy Ibsen said they had not received the letter. Ibsen said they are aware of the situation and addressed it internally. She said they don’t condone the action but continue to have full confidence in Meghji.

“It clearly presents a social media item that we needed to address internally,” Ibsen said. “It doesn’t change our confidence in Kate or her ability to do her job effectively. We’ve done a lot of good in the community and I think the fact that it was a personal page brings up, in general, some questions of what is occurring here.”