Dogs, Cats & Zebras, Oh My: Cecil County Commissioners Weigh Animal Law and Agendas
A Cecil Times Special Report
Cecil County Commissioners this week reviewed revisions to the countyâs animal law proposed by a small remnant of a two-year old task force that has all but disbanded. A Cecil Times review of documents shows that an unappointed activist given a seat at the bargaining table Tuesday is a donor to a political action committee seeking to influence state and local animal laws, while Commissionersâ board President James Mullin (R-1) orchestrated the exclusion of the local SPCA from previous discussions of the proposal.
In some âonly in Cecil Countyâ moments, Commissioner Robert Hodge (R-5) sought to make sure that any new ordinance would not bar his recent acquisition of two female zebras as pets on his farm. And Commissioner Mullin suggested that the county demand that all contractors, including road paving firms, disclose personal financial information before being allowed to bid on county contractsâ in a ploy to justify attempts to delve into the SPCAâs finances beyond their publicly available reports to the IRS.
An âanimal control task forceâ was appointed by county commissioners after state Del. Michael Smigiel (R-36) published blog attacks against the Cecil County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Inc. (CCSPCA) in early 2009. (CCSPCA provides animal control services to the county under a fixed-price annual contract.) An investigation by the State Police, reviewed by the Caroline County Stateâs Attorneyâs office, concluded in mid-2009 that Smigielâs allegations were unfounded and that his key âwitnessâ admitted to perjury and failed a police-administered polygraph test.
Nevertheless, the âtask forceâ has lingered on, and after the full task force presented proposals last fall, a public hearing was held 2/1/11 on a revised ordinance. The ordinance was supported by the CCSPCA and other local animal groups but at the hearing some citizens questioned provisions to regulate sizes of enclosures for dogs and others questioned zoning laws, unrelated to the animal ordinance that allowed a commercial breeding kennel to locate near residential areas in the Appleton Rd. area.
The County Commissioners then asked that those concerns be addressed in possible revisions to the proposed ordinance, with a directive that only those questions be addressed by what was left of the task force.
The previous chairman of the task force, Howard Isenberg– a respected human services executive and member of many area charitable groups– had previously resigned, as had most of the members of the task force. So a Perryville veterinarian and cat advocate, Mindy Carletti, who was a member but not an officer of the task force, decided to take over. She was not given an executive title of the panel by county commissioners.
This spring, Carletti produced a major overhaul of the previous consensus plan, including mandates that had been rejected by the full task force. Among her revisions are legal mandates to require animal owners to obtain a wide range of vaccinations and micro-chipping that are not specified by state law– but could accrue significant income to veterinarians such as Carletti.
Meanwhile, a key figure in the revisions is Edith (Edie) Crick, who was never appointed as a member of the task force by the county commissioners and was listed on official documents as an âadministrative aideâ who took notes at task force meetings.
Nevertheless, Crick was invited to sit at the table with the Commissioners on Tuesday, while executives and board members of the CCSPCA and members of local animal advocacy groups were told they were not allowed to speak or ask questions during the discussion. Crick defended the newest revisions and spoke as though she was in charge of the task force, which was not represented by any officially appointed member at the meeting.
State election documents show that Crick, of Chesapeake City, is a financial donor to a political action committee (PAC) that attempts to influence legislation on animal issues, including attempts to restrict the poultry industry on the Eastern Shore. [UPDATE: The PAC, Maryland Votes for Animals, also endorsed candidates in the last state elections and in local contests in Anne Arundel County.]
Documents obtained by The Cecil Times show that a previously proposed 5/31/11 meeting to discuss the animal law was hijacked by Crick and Carletti, who refused to participate if representatives of the SPCA were allowed to attend.
âWe do not feel that we should have to address any issues to anyone,â they wrote.
Subsequent emails obtained by Cecil Times show that Commissioner Mullin yielded to the Carletti/Crick demands and ordered that the SPCA be excluded from the 5/31 meeting. However, other documents show that the SPCA was officially told that the meeting had been âcancelledâ but the SPCA was not advised that the meeting was secretly re-scheduled to include Carletti/Crick but exclude the SPCA.
Once again, the SPCA was not invited to Tuesdayâs meeting. But it was disclosed on the weekly commissionersâ schedule posted online late Friday before the long July 4 holiday weekend. Several state and national animal groups posted email alerts early Tuesday to advise members of the meeting later in the day.
During Tuesdayâs meeting, Hodge said that the latest proposals were not yet âready for public commentâ and he questioned several provisions of the Carletti-drafted ordinance that seemed to attack the SPCA rather than address animal control issues.
He challenged some of the Carletti proposals in the overall animal ordinance that would attempt to demand information on the non-profit group that are not even required by the IRS, which does not require disclose of individual donations or donorsâ identities.
âYou pay them for a service,â Hodge said of the SPCAâs fixed-price contract. No other contractor is required to disclose its other income or entities with which it does business. âI donât know why youâre treating the SPCA differently,â he said.
With a pout, Mullin declared, âMaybe we should do that for all vendors.â
No final decisions were reached at the commissionersâ worksession and they decided to have Crick get back to them with her latest revisions that were supposed to reflect some of the commissionersâ concerns.
[Disclosure: The editor of Cecil Times has adopted dogs from the CCSPCA and in the past has served as an unpaid volunteer board member.]