Cecil County SPCA Withdraws Bid for Animal Control; Cites “Tainted” Process
The Cecil County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Inc. (CCSPCA) has withdrawn its bid to resume animal control services to the Cecil County government, citing what the group’s lawyer called a “tainted” county bidding process.
The CCSPCA’s withdrawal leaves one bidder, A Buddy for Life, Inc., a Delaware-based volunteer dog rescue with no shelter, no experience in animal control services, and no employees. However, the group is believed to be planning to sub-contract with other individuals and entities to share in the workload and money received from the county.
A review panel, consisting of senior county officials, met with representatives of the Buddy group Thursday morning to hear an oral presentation and discuss areas of concern. The group is expected to submit a final proposal based upon the discussion, according to County Administrator Al Wein and County Attorney Norman Wilson. They also said that Commissioner Diana Broomell (R-4), who had earlier said she wanted to sit in on the review team’s meeting with bidders, did not attend the session.
The review panel had also been slated to meet with the CCSPCA on Thursday but that session was cancelled after Michael J. Halter, the organization’s volunteer attorney, delivered a letter to the county government Wednesday afternoon.
In his brief letter, Halter said that the board of the CCSPCA felt that the “process” under which bids had been handled was not “fair and impartial” and that “the outcome of the process will be tainted.”
Concerns have been raised, since the 9/14/12 Request for Proposals (RFP) deadline to submit bids, that the Three Amigos faction of the County Commissioners has sought to change the county’s new animal control ordinance, which takes effect 10/1/12, to remove ‘cats’ from the law. At a Tuesday afternoon meeting, Commissioners Tari Moore (R-2) and Robert Hodge (R-5) voiced objections that the move would interfere with the pending RFP bidding and review process by removing a major cost area that bidders should have included in their calculations.
The origin of the no cats proposal has been a mystery, but under repeated questioning by Moore on Tuesday, Commissioner James Mullin (R-1) was identified as having given the proposal to Wein. But Mullin stated that “I didn’t put the whole document together,” without further identifying who else was involved.
Hodge has questioned whether the newly proposed removal of cats from the ordinance reflected the agenda of Mindy Carletti, a Perryville veterinarian and cat rescue operator who re-wrote the animal ordinance after the rest of a citizens’ task force resigned upon completion of a different law that was put out to public hearing in early 2011. In July of this year, the commissioners adopted the Carletti-written ordinance but added in cat regulations, primarily at the insistence of Hodge. (However, Hodge and Moore voted against final passage of the ordinance.)
On Tuesday, Hodge and Moore questioned whether the removal of the cats language would negate the RFP process and whether the entire process should be put out for bid again.
Implicit in the issue is the unanswered question of whether one bidder might have had advance knowledge or conversations that cat regulations would likely be removed from the ordinance and whether a bid might have been adjusted accordingly.
Meanwhile, Carletti has provided veterinarian services to the Buddy group. It is not known with certainty if she is participating in the group’s bid to the county. However, she did submit a previous bid to the county for interim veterinary services but it was rejected as too costly since she demanded payment for being on-call even if she rendered no actual services.
The county’s procurement process provides options for bidders who feel there are improprieties or irregularities in the competition to file a “protest” which is then reviewed by a special panel. Such protests can come at various stages of the bidding and bid review process, including before a bid is awarded.
A review of the RFP and state databases indicates that the Buddy organization flunked one of the basic requirements of the RFP: a license to do business in the state of Maryland held at the time of the bid. The state database of business licenses showed no such license held by the Buddy group.
Protests may also question the credentials and abilities of a rival bidder. Questions could have been raised in light of Delaware court filings showing two non-payment of debt judgment filings against a principal of the Buddy group.
However, the CCSPCA decided to drop out of the bidding process rather than fight administratively or in court because “it just wasn’t worth the hassle,” Halter told Cecil Times. The outcome appeared pre-ordained toward the other bidder, he said, and even if the CCSPCA did emerge as the contractor, “Carletti and the others would try to make it a living hell,” especially since her backers are expected to try to pack an Animal Care and Control Oversight Commission to be appointed by the county.
Halter said the CCSPCA was not giving up forever on resuming the animal control services it has provided to the county for over two decades and “we might bid next year” if the climate in Elkton is different.
Apart from questions about county government processes, the “hassle” factor has taken on a personal dimension. In the past few days individual supporters of the rival bidder have taken to the Internet and email lists of animal groups to post personal attacks on Jeanne Deeming, the executive director of the CCSPCA, including posting her personal email address. One posting viewed by Cecil Times included four-letter curse words from a county resident supporting a rival bidder. [UPDATE: In addition, some supporters of the Buddy group have emailed threats of violence against Deeming. She told Cecil Times that police authorities were unwilling to pursue actions against the cyber-threats.]
Responding to the withdrawal of the CCSPCA from the bidding process, Hodge told Cecil Times he was “very disappointed that the most qualified provider is walking away.”
At their next Tuesday morning worksession, the commissioners will consider adding outside experts to the bid review panel, Hodge said. He has proposed including the director of the Carroll County animal shelter who previously participated in the original task force that proposed a new animal ordinance, which was then re-written by Carletti after that task force disbanded. “We need someone with some expertise in animal control issues,” Hodge said.
The commissioners are also slated to review, again, cat revisions to the ordinance at that worksession, according to the agenda for the meeting.
Deeming was reported to be out of the office at the CCSPCA shelter Thursday and did not respond to messages left on her cell phone.
Cecil Times has also called Commissioners Moore and Broomell and will update this report upon their response.
[Disclosure: The editor of Cecil Times has adopted several pets from the CCSPCA and in the past served as an unpaid volunteer board member.]