Horse-sense, Nonsense and Bid Cents: Cecil County Commish Roll in Litter Pan Again Over Cats, Animal Control, Horses
The Cecil County Commissioners could have used a veterinarian to administer tranquilizers Tuesday as they bared their claws, yet again, over revisions to the county’s new animal ordinance, how many ‘experts’ should dance on the head of a panel reviewing the lone remaining bidder for animal control services, and conflicting concerns over horses.
And just when you thought one Old Gray Mare issue had been put out to pasture—a mandate for “health certificates” for animals such as dogs and horses crossing state lines to visit or attend events in Cecil County—Commissioner Diana Broomell (R-4) on Tuesday proposed putting the contentious certificates matter back into the new ordinance, which took effect on 10/1/12. It had been removed previously when citizens protested at a public hearing that putting the certificates into the county ordinance imposed an undue and unenforceable local burden that was best left to state laws covering transport of livestock and horses across state lines.
In another revelation, Broomell and Commissioner James Mullin (R-1) claimed Tuesday that they did not read the text of the animal ordinance before they voted on it in August. The Three Amigos majority of the commissioners, including Broomell, Mullin and Michael Dunn (R-3) voted for the ordinance while Commissioners Robert Hodge (R-3) and Tari Moore (R-2) voted no. “I’ll take responsibility for not reading the document the night we voted on it,” Mullin admitted.
And there were several intriguing hints about the plans of, and possible county communications with, the lone remaining bidder for a contract with the county to provide animal control services– A Buddy for Life, Inc., a Delaware volunteer rescue group with no shelter, no paid employees and no experience in animal control. The group is linked to Mindy Carletti, a Perryville veterinarian who re-wrote the animal ordinance after a multi-member Task Force resigned more than a year ago after submitting its own version.
The Cecil County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Inc., (CCSPCA), which handled animal control for the county for decades, withdrew its bid last week, citing what the group’s attorney called a “tainted” bidding process that appeared tilted to favor the Buddy group.
On Tuesday, Hodge hinted at the worksession that the Buddy group’s original bid proposal failed to address adequately where stray animals would be sheltered. (Currently, Buddy uses volunteer foster homes in Delaware, Maryland, and other nearby states to house dogs and it has no facilities for cats, according to its website and voicemail.)
And at another meeting last Tuesday afternoon, Broomell indicated that she had been advised that she should no longer consult with Gerald Hawkins, a former CCSPCA animal control officer whom she has brought up to the witness table at recent worksessions—an indication that he is now partnering with the Buddy group in its bid. (Hawkins, who personally put in an unsuccessful bid seeking $10,000 a month from the county just to capture stray animals but not house them on an “interim” basis until a new contractor is selected, sat in the audience at Tuesday morning’s worksession.) So now Broomell said she is “consulting” with John Kitchin, a former CCSPCA employee who has been out of the animal control field for at least five years.
One of the key bones (or is it kitty kibble?) of contention is a sudden proposal that surfaced a few weeks ago to delete most references to “cats” in the new ordinance. And questions have been raised about whether the Buddy group had been given advance information that costly cat services and regulations would be removed from the ordinance by the Commissioners.
On Tuesday, Mullin said he had directed county administrator Al Wein to inform bidders that the commissioners were re-considering cat regulations. Under questioning by Hodge, Mullin later backed down and said that such advice was offered after the Friday 9/14/12 deadline to submit bids.
“There is a perception out there” that the county is trying to “conform the ordinance to a bid” by one group, Hodge said Tuesday. “Now we are trying to make the ordinance fit the proposal.”
Moore said the proposed new ordinance changes to delete cats were “inconsistent” with the RFP and bidding process currently underway. “Why are we doing this now,” Moore asked.
Hodge questioned whether there was, in effect, an implicit advantage given to the Buddy group, which Wein said would submit a “final and best proposal” today that included coverage for all current laws, including the cats rules of the new ordinance. But with the public discussion for the past two weeks with a clear Three Amigos majority favoring deletion of costly cat regulations, Hodge questioned the process. “That’s why there’s a perception that there’s shenanigans going on here,” Hodge said.
Jeanne Deeming, executive director of the CCSPCA, told Cecil Times that the organization was never given any ‘wink, wink’ advice that a majority of commissioners would delete cats from the ordinance and the group’s bid always included the cost of providing services for cats. The CCSPCA bid on the ordinance as is, she said, but also suggested some potential cost-saving proposals, such as dropping a requirement to photograph and post on the Internet pictures, descriptions and further information about all stray animals it took in within 24 hours of admission.
Meanwhile, Broomell attacked Hodge and Moore, saying, “It just seems to me we’re delaying this on purpose” and “I’m just thinking this is being intentionally stalled.” And in a shot at Moore—who defeated Broomell in the Republican primary for County Executive—Broomell inquired if Moore was proposing “waiting until the county executive can choose” a contractor after the November election.
As usual, nothing was decided after the lengthy discussion.
In addition, the commissioners sniped back and forth over whether to add six outside advisors to a group of county senior officials that is reviewing the bid by the Buddy group. After multiple votes and multiple combinations of possible appointees, the commissioners eventually voted 4-1 (with Broomell voting no) to keep the county panel as is but provide the list of outside experts as possible resources for the panel to tap for advice.
The biggest issue during the advisers debate was Broomell’s adamant demand to exclude from the group Nicky Ratliff, Director of the Carroll County Humane Society, a recognized statewide animal control expert who also served on the original task force that wrote a different ordinance from the one currently on Cecil County’s law books. Ratliff’s organization handles animal control at a Carroll County-owned and maintained shelter facility. For many years she was the president of a state-wide organization of animal shelter employees and operators and she has also been a board member of the nationally recognized Days End horse rescue in Howard County.
“I don’t want someone who’s going to be inclined politically to support one group over another,” Broomell said. She also said no one who was involved in the original task force should be included on the bid review group. She wanted to put Kitchin, who currently works at a local fraternal group’s lodge, on the review group.
Hodge pointed out there is only one bidder left so Broomell’s argument made no sense.
In addition, Broomell had no objection to inclusion of Virginia DuPont Suarez—who also served on the original task force but stayed on briefly after the others left and supported many of Carletti’s revisions to the task force work
Meanwhile, a local horse rescue surfaced on Tuesday at the worksession and at the evening Commissioners’ meeting with petition signatures to ask for provisions to protect horses from abuse, neglect and cruelty under the county ordinance. The group was not visible at the public hearing on the new ordinance, when many other equine advocates testified.
A majority of the County Commissioners previously suggested excluding horses from some provisions that might require scooping horse poop but always intended toretain horses in cruelty and neglect provisions of the current ordinance.
Some supporters of the horse rescue group suggested that the county should regulate stables and other equine facilities. But it was pointed out that state law and agencies regulate, inspect and license stables, boarding facilities, and horseback riding facilities.
State law also provides standards and penalties for horse and farm animal abuse and neglect, and in the past the CCSPCA investigated cruelty and neglect cases. The law also specifies that a veterinarian must certify a horse or farm animal is physically endangered before a seizure can be made. State and local ‘freedom to farm’ laws also set high thresholds for inquiries involving farm animals.
Dr. Alan McCarthy, a Chesapeake City veterinarian who cared for some of the biggest names in the thoroughbred horse world, told the Commissioners Tuesday evening that he had assisted the CCSPCA in such cases and had testified in their prosecution of horse abuse and neglect cases in court. He noted that such cases are very “sad” and that they usually result from people no longer having the money to care for horses properly.
Dr. McCarthy is also the Republican nominee for the County Council in the November election in District 1. (If he wins, maybe he can bring his medical bag with him to Elkton to administer sedation as warranted.)
[Disclosure: The editor of Cecil Times has adopted several pets from the CCSPCA and in the past served as an unpaid volunteer board member.]