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SPCA Dumps Contract after Cecil County Commish Pass Costly Animal Law Overhaul, on 3-2 Vote

July 18, 2012
By Nancy Schwerzler

The Cecil County Commissioners, by the usual 3-2 vote, Tuesday adopted an overhaul of the county’s animal ordinance that was three years in the making. And within hours, the Cecil County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Inc., which has handled animal control for the county for decades, notified the county it planned to terminate its services to the county at the end of August.

County officials were caught by surprise. The actions leave in doubt the future of animal control services in the county; indeed, whether there will be any such services when the new ordinance takes effect on Oct. 1.

If the local non-profit group declines to continue its services to the county, it will be the latest area group to do so, following similar actions by the Delaware SPCA for the city of Wilmington and the Kent County (DE) SPCA for its home county in nearby Delaware. [Delaware SPCA notified the city of its intent to cancel, and its contract expired, but a one-year temporary accord was reached earlier this month, pending a state study panel review of animal control services statewide.]

CCSPCA officials said the proposed step did not mean the non-profit was throwing in the towel on its services to animals. Instead, the Chesapeake City-based group would recast itself as a “no kill” animal rescue and adoption facility, with a low-cost, full service animal hospital, grooming and pet care facility. CCSPCA is one of the few shelters in the state or region with a full-time, licensed veterinarian on staff.

The CCSPCA had worked with a previous Commissioner-appointed task force on a different ordinance overhaul and endorsed a proposal that was put out to a public hearing 2/1/11. However, since then, nearly all task force members resigned and Mindy Carletti, a Perryville veterinarian, took control and she conducted an extensive re-write of the previous task force’s work.

The final Commissioners’ vote Tuesday on the latest incarnation of the ordinance came as somewhat of a surprise to local and national groups that have been monitoring the process. At an informal commissioners’ session to go over final changes a week ago it was said that there should be another public hearing due to significant changes since a 6/12 hearing on the ordinance, which will for the first time include cats in county animal laws.

But Commissioners’ President James Mullin (R-1) put it on the agenda for Tuesday afternoon’s formal commissioners’ meeting and brought it to a final vote, with minimal discussion and no elaboration on the latest revisions. The tally was 3-2, with the usual Three Amigos voting majority—Commissioners James Mullin (R-1), Diana Broomell (R-4) and Michael Dunn (R-3)– voting for it. Commissioners Robert Hodge (R-5) and Tari Moore (R-2) voted no.

In response to Tuesday’s action by the commissioners, Michael J. Halter, the pro-bono attorney for the CCSPCA, wrote a letter to the commissioners several hours later, saying that the new ordinance was a “drastic” overhaul of current law.

“As expressed by the undersigned counsel at a public hearing regarding the revised animal control ordinance, the ordinance is in part unenforceable, unconstitutional and onerous. The added responsibilities that the revised statute creates upon the SPCA would require a substantial increase in the yearly cost of animal control to the county. The Commissioners in whole and/or in part have often noted their reluctance and lack of approval for any additional funds to support the proper enforcement of the animal control statute.”

[SEE detailed Cecil Times report on hearing, ordinance here: http://ceciltimes.com/2012/06/cecil-county-animal-law-good-intentions-run-a-costly-amok-zoning-issues-ignored/ ]

[Also, see Cecil Times report of recent commissioner clashes on post-public hearing revisions to the ordinance: http://ceciltimes.com/2012/06/citizens-bark-but-cecil-county-commish-dont-heel-on-animal-law/ ]

Halter wrote that the CCSPCA proposes “that the contract and its responsibilities there under be terminated effective August 30, 2012, unless a suitable alternative date can be reached by both parties.”

The CCSPCA acts as an independent contractor to provide animal control services for the county, capturing strays, apprehending dangerous animals, assisting law enforcement agencies, and providing shelter and medical care to strays and owner-surrendered animals. After a current five-day holding period for strays supported by the county, the full cost of the animals’ care is borne by the non-profit CCSPCA, which also arranges adoptions of animals.

The county has frozen its payments to the CCSPCA for the past five fiscal years. Despite provisions in the then-pending new ordinance requiring multiple new duties– including kennel inspections, supervision of catteries, and an expanded eight-day mandatory holding period for strays– commissioners refused to budget any additional funds for animal control in the current FY 13 budget.

During Tuesday’s commissioners’ meeting, Moore said that while she welcomed many provisions to provide better protections and humane care for animals, its enforceability was questionable and “the cost of this ordinance is a no.” Throughout the process, Moore has repeatedly questioned how much the changes would cost both taxpayers and individual citizens to be in compliance with its many new regulations and fees. But her questions went unanswered by the Amigos faction and Carletti.

Moore said it was “irresponsible” to pass a law without knowing its costs. “No one in this room would agree to buy something without knowing the cost,” she said.

Hodge said that the latest version of the animal law was “an example of government overreach and government intrusion,” including a new category of “hobby kennels” for families that would be banned from having over two litters of puppies a year but would still have to obtain special licenses and county inspections of their homes.

Reading from written notes, Mullin declared that the overhauled ordinance would bring “accountability and disclosure” to animal services and “puts to rest the wild west mentality,” seemingly echoing accusations raised in 2009 by his political ally, Del. Michael Smigiel (R-36), of alleged animal abuse at the CCSPCA shelter.

In fact, an investigation by the State Police, requested by CCSPCA, and an independent review by the Caroline County State’s Attorney cleared the SPCA of any wrongdoing and reported that Smigiel’s chief “witness” failed a polygraph test and admitted to police that the accusations were lies. The State’s Attorney also said that those who lied could have faced charges for filing false reports, but the intervention of Smigiel made that impossible because the false reports were made through him and his office, not directly to police. (Dunn was an aide to Smigiel at the time. )

Jeanne Deeming, executive director of the CCSPCA, said the decision to terminate the county contract was not taken lightly and that the agency was “very worried about the welfare of the animals” in the county without trained and certified animal control officers in charge and readily available veterinary medical services for injured stray animals.

She said the CCSPA met with county administrator Al Wein and county attorney Norman Wilson several weeks ago and offered a list of alternatives to control costs, make some modifications to regulatory burdens in the pending ordinance, and seek a compromise to continue services at reasonable cost to taxpayers. But commissioners declined to attend the meeting and CCSPCA was subsequently advised that a majority of commissioners had rejected the proposals out of hand.

Moore told Cecil Times she was not aware of those proposals but voiced her concerns about the fate of animal control services if the CCSPCA terminates its services. She said she asked Wein on Wednesday to begin a process for a “request for proposal” to seek alternative service providers.

However, the county did such an RFP two years ago and only CCSPCA responded. Since that time, other animal charities in the region have increasingly gotten out of the animal control services arena, including the Delaware groups, as part of a growing nationwide trend. Such groups have said they prefer to shift toward a “no kill” model, which allows them to pick and choose which likely to be adopted pets to take in and reject admission to old, sick or vicious animals.

CCSPCA has been an “open admission” shelter, taking all animals from Cecil County regardless of breed, viciousness, age or illness. If necessary due to viciousness or injury, animals were humanely euthanized but the shelter’s policy was not to euthanize animals for space reasons.

Hodge told Cecil Times he was “disappointed” that the CCSPCA sent its letter and said the county had “no Plan B” for what to do without that agency’s services.

Smigiel and some of his commissioner allies have in the past suggested that the sheriff’s department should take over animal control. However, the Sheriff is independently elected and the commissioners have no legal authority to dictate how he runs his agency or assigns his deputies. And Sheriff Barry Janney’s budget was cut by the commissioners this year, as they rejected his requests for additional deputies, including two to deal with rampant illegal drug crimes and the prescription drug abuse epidemic in the county.

Deeming said the CCSPCA would be “willing to talk” with commissioners if they came to the agency with a sincere interest in resolving the issue and recognizing that additional duties must be met with corresponding funds. If that is not the case in the next few months, she said the organization would be willing to re-open the door in the future if there are changes in the ruling lineup in Elkton.

“We could be back in animal control services in 24 hours,” she said.

[Disclosure: The editor of Cecil Times has adopted several pets from CCSPCA and in the past served as an unpaid volunteer board member.]

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8 Responses to SPCA Dumps Contract after Cecil County Commish Pass Costly Animal Law Overhaul, on 3-2 Vote

  1. Keith Baynes on July 18, 2012 at 8:03 pm

    Hip hip hooray for the SPCA.

  2. Jay D. on July 18, 2012 at 10:35 pm

    I am glad the SPCA called their bluff. No Plan “B”– imagine that from this bunch of clowns. The whole process was a circus act of gigantic proportions with Mindy Carletti the H$U$ shill and her clones on the Board trying to play in the big leagues. I am sure they think they have won and now they think they are going to run it. Well you guys better have a big budget to buy a new building and property to run it from as the SPCA owns everything you see when you go there. I am glad to hear the SPCA is going No Kill, too. Three cheers for the SPCA.

  3. Too much government on July 19, 2012 at 9:46 am

    Hooray for the SPCA for standing up to those three commissioner puppets of Smiegel. The SPCA was exonerated back in 2009, but the three amigos just won’t let it go. Enough already. I would like to know what this entire charade has cost Cecil County taxpayers. This money could have been allocated to the SPCA to offset their expenses. It’s all about getting even because the puppets didn’t get the result they were hoping for. SPCA has always responded to my calls in a professional and prompt manner.

    It’s a major loss for the animals of this county.

  4. Mike R on July 19, 2012 at 2:45 pm

    These county commissioners are a perpetual joke. Anyone who has been to the SPCA knows that the staff has a true love for the animals. It is quite evident that the dogs and cats are well cared for and happy. Anyone who says otherwise has never been to the SPCA or has an ax to grind.

    No “Plan B”. I guess that all feral cats and stray dogs will have to be taken to the County Commissioners building in Elkton. That’s really funny!

    Hopefully, once the amigos are in the minority, the more reasonable and better educated council will mend this broken fence and renegotiate with the SPCA and throw this new ordinance in the shredder and go back to a sensible set of rules. What ever happened to the second public hearing? Do I envision cover-up – Yes I do. Transparency = none.

  5. Ratman on July 19, 2012 at 2:59 pm

    Wasn’t this the goal of Smigiel all along, from pushing the falsehoods…then covering for [those] who failed the polygraph and admitted to lying, then trying to force the SPCA out of the contract. I think the CC SPCA has put up with a lot of abuse from Cecil County and it was their desire to help the amimals that kept them going. But, you can only get slapped around for so long before you say enough is enough. Sooo, plan “B” is ??? Maybe Mindy Carletti should be forced to take over the contract and live by her own rules. Lets see how long she would survive without a complaint. Of course that will not happen as it looks like she was working for and would be protected by the three amigos and Smiegel.

  6. JAG on July 19, 2012 at 3:05 pm

    I pass the SPCA several times a week and I had never stopped in. This article was most impressive and felt I should stop in and see for myself. The building is well kept, the staff is very friendly and knowledgable, the animals are clean and vetted and best of all, the building smells wonderful. You don’t smell the usual musty, nasty odors that are normally in a kennel environment.

    In speaking with management, their long range plan is animal oriented and well thought out. This is an amazing place. It is most unfortunate for the animals of Cecil County to have lost the services of this establishment.

    It is my opinion that the County Commissioners should be ashamed of themselves for being unwilling because of politics to provide this organization the moneys necessary to continue animal control services. They certainly find the money for buying million dollar agricultural land which in my book is unnecessary, but animal control certainly is. Now I know why people refer to Cecil County as the dregs of the State.

  7. Joe C on July 19, 2012 at 10:38 pm

    Guard your garbage cans and bring your kids in the house; packs of wild dogs are soon to follow.

    • Javier S. on July 25, 2012 at 9:13 pm

      And the three Stooges (Amigos) will be behind the wild dogs.

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OUR CECIL COUNTY DELEGATE DELIVERED (Part 3)

Supporting Our First Responders

*Secured Mobile Command Unit Bus

*Helped obtain land for Perryville Fire Station 16

*Fought for traffic signal devices to aid emergency vehicles

*Hosted security/safety workshop on crude oil transports

And More to Come
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