3 Amigos Aim to Give Cecil County Animal Control Contract to “Buddy” Group in Final Hours Before Charter Govt.; Settling Scores?
In a final swan song before Charter government begins next Monday, the Three Amigos faction of the Cecil County Commissioners late Tuesday suddenly scheduled two “special” meetings so they can award an animal control contract to A Buddy for Life, a Delaware dog rescue group with no animal shelter and no experience in animal control, by the end of this week.
A few minutes before 5 p.m. Tuesday afternoon, an email alert and posting on the county government website announced that there would be a “special meeting” of the Commissioners tomorrow, at 2 p.m. on Wednesday 11/28/12, and another “special meeting” at 10 a.m. Friday 11/30/12, “regarding the animal care and control contract between A Buddy for Life and Cecil County.” There was no public mention of such meetings, no details of a contract or pending action at the regular, public worksession of the County Commissioners held Tuesday morning. That worksession was previously scheduled as the last official meeting of the Commissioners before they go out of existence upon the onset of Charter government on Monday, 12/3/12 at noon.
The Cecil County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Inc. (CCSPCA), which had bid on the contract but withdrew its bid citing a “tainted” bidding process, recently filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction against award of a contract to the Buddy group and a court hearing on the injunction is currently scheduled for late December. The CCSPCA has handled animal control under contract with the county for decades, and has its own fully equipped and licensed animal shelter, with a full-time staff veterinarian, in Chesapeake City.
Despite the pending litigation, the Three Amigos faction—which will be losing one of its leading members, Commissioners Board President James Mullin (R-1) as of Monday— is seeking to push ahead anyway in the last few days of the Amigos’ control of the county board.
The same faction has indicated for months, through public comments and proposed changes to a new animal control ordinance, that it favored the Delaware group that is aligned with Mindy Carletti, a Perryville veterinarian who unilaterally re-wrote a proposed animal control ordinance for the past year and a half after a broad-based task force submitted a significantly different ordinance in late 2010. (The Buddy group was not licensed to do business in Maryland at the time it submitted its bid to provide animal control services but subsequently filed an application with the state, listing Carletti as its “resident agent,” sources said.)
The sudden move by the Three Amigos faction of Commissioners came several hours before the county’s Board of Appeals was set to hold a public hearing Tuesday night on a request for a zoning variance by the Buddy group on an Appleton Road warehouse that the group wants to rent to convert into an animal shelter. It was unclear how the county could plan to move ahead with a contract with the Buddy group without an approved shelter facility, or if some commissioners believed they could predict—or ignore– how the Board of Appeals would rule on the variance request.
Local residents have hired an attorney to oppose the variance, sources said. Board of Appeals decisions are subject to appeal to the county Circuit Court. The Buddy group filed its request for the zoning variance in early October, after the deadline to bid under a county Request for Proposal (RFP), which required bidders to have a plan in place for sheltering homeless animals as a condition of a bid proposal.
[UPDATE: The Cecil County Board of Appeals voted to deny the zoning variance request by the Buddy group Tuesday night. Commissioners Diana Broomell and James Mullin attended the meeting but did not speak, according to attendees. Although the zoning variance was applied for by Crystal Litteral, the president and only listed officer of the Buddy group, Jenn Callahan-- a longtime friend and employee of Mindy Carletti-- appeared at the zoning hearing to present the Buddy group's case.]
The last-minute push by the Three Amigos raises numerous questions about procedure as well as legality. There are no formal, evening “business meetings” of the Commissioners before the Board is abolished upon the establishment of Charter government—with a County Council and a County Executive—on Monday. And current rules for the Commissioners specify a proposal, including actions on RFPs or awards of contracts, must be submitted at a formal “business” meeting as an “introduction item” before it can be listed on the agenda as an “action item” two weeks after introduction.
But the fine points of the law appear to pale against the agenda of the outgoing Three Amigos faction, all of whom are aligned politically with Del. Michael Smigiel (R-36), a longstanding foe of the CCSPCA. Commissioners Diana Broomell (R-4) and Michael Dunn (R-3) both previously worked for Smigiel as aides. And Commissioners Board President James Mullin (R-1)—who is out of a job as of Monday, after losing his bid for re-election—ran as a member of a Smipkin slate of candidates endorsed and financed by Smigiel and his political ally, state Sen. E.J. Pipkin (R-36). (Broomell and Dunn will be carry-over members of the new County Council.)
Unclear at this point is exactly how much taxpayer money the Buddy group would get from the county, although sources indicated it would be substantially more than the current budget year’s contract with the CCSPCA.
And it was also unclear how the minimally funded Buddy group—which had less that $6,000 in its bank account according to its most recent filing as a non-profit group with the federal IRS—would come up with the costly infrastructure, such as cage-equipped vans, computer software to track lost or stray animals, renovation of its rented warehouse to provide indoor kennels, etc., or if the county taxpayers would be paying money up front to build the infrastructure for the Buddy group.
It was also unclear how or when the Buddy group would obtain necessary state and federal licenses for animal drug dispensing, including highly regulated animal sedatives and euthanasia drugs. State environmental agencies also showed no applications for needed discharge permits for kennel run-off/washdown discharges that could impact the environment.
The CCSPCA already has a fully equipped, state-licensed shelter facility and animal hospital, as well as appropriate environmental permits and state veterinary and federal drug licensing.
[Disclosure: The editor of Cecil Times has adopted several pets from the CCSPCA and in the past served as an unpaid volunteer board member.]