Cecil County Commish Accept “Buddy” Group for Animal Control; Cecil SPCA Files Lawsuit to Block Contract, Re-open Bids
The Cecil County Commissioners agreed Tuesday to accept a review panel‚Äôs recommendation to declare A Buddy for Life, a Delaware volunteer group, as qualified to provide animal control services to the county government and proceed with final contract negotiations. But the Cecil County SPCA filed a lawsuit seeking to block award of a contract to the Buddy group and to re-open the bidding process.
Even as the county sought to proceed with steps to give county money to the Buddy group– which has no shelter of its own, no employees and no track record of providing animal control services– basic information and details about the venture and its principals were still shrouded in secrecy Tuesday.
County Commissioner Robert Hodge (R-5), who raised the only questions about the Buddy group during the commissioners‚Äô worksession, asked for a copy of a ‚Äúbusiness plan‚ÄĚ that the group was asked to submit to the county. After the meeting, County Administrator Al Wein refused to disclose that plan to the press and said he would ‚Äúexplain‚ÄĚ to Hodge why even he could not have a copy.
However, it was learned independently that the Buddy group is trying to obtain zoning variances to put an animal shelter in a rented warehouse, which is not equipped with animal kennels or related infrastructure, on Appleton Road– a short distance away from a controversial commercial dog kennel on the same road that has triggered community protests at several public hearings. An application for a zoning variance is slated to be heard by the county Board of Appeals on 11/27/12. [SEE application here: http://www.ccgov.org/uploads/PlanningAndZoning/Meetings/boa/2012/Spex_3625.PDF ]
The county‚Äôs request for bids specified that a contractor should have a shelter facility with appropriate zoning at the time of its September application for the animal control contract.
It was also unclear how the Buddy group would pay for needed improvements at the warehouse‚ÄĒsince the non-profit Buddies group reported on its most recent filings with the federal Internal Revenue Service for 2011 that it only had a cash balance of $1,053‚ÄĒor if they intended to use county dollars provided under an animal control contract to construct kennels, fenced dog runs and other needed infrastructure and acquire supplies such as computers and animal tracking software.
In addition, Wein said at Tuesday‚Äôs worksession that there was a proposed ‚Äúinterim‚ÄĚ kennel option to house stray animals until the Buddy group gets its zoning variance‚ÄĒassuming that it does. But, in an independent interview, Cecil Times learned that the owner of that publically unnamed ‚Äėinterim‚Äô facility was having serious second thoughts about providing such services, which would only provide kennels for 11 dogs‚ÄĒfar less than the usually needed number of kennels for animal control facilities.
And that kennel operator said she was not given pertinent information‚ÄĒsuch as the new county animal control ordinance barring co-housing of private boarding animals and county ‚Äústray‚ÄĚ animal housing. If she had been so informed, she said that would have made her decide against offering temporary services.
During the worksession, Wein outlined the history of the Request for Proposals (RFP) process and enumerated four meetings between the Buddy group and a review panel consisting of senior county employees, including Wein, in the past month. He then asked the commissioners to authorize the panel ‚Äúto move forward with negotiation of a contract‚ÄĚ with the group.
A written document presented to the commissioners sought their decision to approve ‚Äúthe award of RFP 13-03 animal care and control services as recommended.‚ÄĚ County Commissioners‚Äô Board President James Mullin (R-1) sought to avoid a recorded vote, saying that the decision could be made by a ‚Äúconsensus‚ÄĚ of the commissioners.
Hodge said he would ‚Äúpass‚ÄĚ on the ‚Äúconsensus‚ÄĚ and no objections were heard from the other present commissioners so Mullin deemed the proposal as passed. (Commissioner Tari Moore, R-2, who was recently elected as County Executive, was absent, vacationing to recuperate from the arduous campaign and to plan her future administration which will begin 12/3/12.) So it was the usual Three Amigos‚ÄĒMullin and Commissioners Diana Broomell (R-4) and Michael Dunn (R-3)– who were counted by Mullin as being in favor of the Buddy group.
There was no discussion during the worksession of the lawsuit, filed Tuesday morning, by Michael Halter, the volunteer attorney for the Cecil County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Inc. (CCSPCA), which has provided animal control services to the county as a private contractor for over two decades. However, Halter said he had advised county attorney Norman Wilson in advance of the filing and provided copies of the legal documents to the county administration Tuesday morning.
In its lawsuit, the CCSPCA challenged the RFP and bidding process as being biased in favor of the Buddy group. The CCSPCA made similar allegations in September, when it withdrew its own bid in response to the RFP, with Halter saying at the time that the bidding and RFP process was ‚Äútainted.‚ÄĚ He said some county commissioners were revising the new animal ordinance retroactively so as to reduce cat services costs to the Buddy group that had advance information of pending ordinance changes. [SEE Cecil Times report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2012/09/cecil-county-spca-withdraws-bid-for-animal-control-cites-tainted-process/ ]
On Tuesday, the CCSPCA sought a Circuit Court ‚Äútemporary restraining order‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúpermanent injunctive relief‚ÄĚ to bar an award of the animal control services contract at this time. The group‚Äôs attorney claimed there had been ‚Äúpersistent and continued lack of fair and equitable dealings with the CCSPCA‚ÄĚ by the Cecil County Commissioners. The suit also claimed that several commissioners (Mullin and Broomell) had admitted they did not exercise due diligence by failing to read the new county animal control ordinance before they voted to approve it.
The legal action also asserts that the Buddy group did not have a business license to operate in Maryland, as required by the RFP.
Meanwhile, Mary Thompson, owner of Rainwood Kennels in Elkton, told Cecil Times that she had been approached to provide ‚Äúinterim‚ÄĚ kennel housing to help out while the Buddy group tried to get its zoning revisions approved for a longer term rental kennel.
‚ÄúI was only trying to help when they asked me. I wanted to do whatever I could to help the animals,‚ÄĚ Thompson said. She offered 11 dog kennels on a temporary basis, but she said no one told her that the new animal control ordinance would require her to give up her private pet boarding operations if she accepted animal control dogs.
Under the new ordinance, Section 209-703K, ‚ÄúAt no time will stray animals be housed with boarded animals‚ÄĒexcept during a declared emergency or disaster at the request of state or county emergency officials.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúNo! I obviously can‚Äôt do that,‚ÄĚ she said in an interview. She said her private pet boarding clients, as well as space she leases to a dog groomer and a dog trainer, make up the bulk of her business. She said she would not give up her private boarding operations to provide temporary help to the Buddy group, even though her heart ached to provide whatever help she could to homeless animals in the county.
The push to give an animal control contract to the Buddy group comes in the final weeks of the county‚Äôs commissioner form of government before the 12/3/12 inauguration of charter government, with a powerful county executive and a less potent County Council to replace the current five-member board of county commissioners. The Three Amigoes faction of the commissioners has been consistently opposed to any support for, or county receipt of help from, the CCSPCA, including the spurning of an offer for help from the CCSPCA to assist animals during the recent Superstorm Sandy, according to informed sources.
All Three Amigoes have longstanding political ties to Del. Michael Smigiel, R-36, who has been an avowed enemy of the CCSPCA for over a decade, ever since the shelter took into custody ill and dead animals owned by a Perryville pet shop for which Smigiel was legal counsel.
Meanwhile, in contrast to the 11 temporary kennels suggested by the Buddy group and an unknown number of kennels in the currently open warehouse on Appleton Road, the CCSPCA owns an 11 acre site in Chesapeake City, with 57 state inspected and licensed on-site kennels for dogs, an open ‚Äúcat room‚ÄĚ with an outdoor enclosed play area for cats, as well as an on-site fully licensed veterinary hospital and a staff veterinarian, according to past comments to Cecil Times by Jeanne Deeming, executive director of the CCSPCA. The shelter also has two vans equipped with fortified cages for transport of dangerous animals; several quarantine areas for sick or dangerous animals, and computers and special software to track lost or stray animals so owners may readily find them.
The CCSPCA also has the only state-licensed crematorium in the county for environmentally-approved disposal of deceased animal remains and has state environmental agency approval for ‚Äúdischarge‚ÄĚ permits for removal of animal waste. The currently vacant warehouse proposed for a shelter by the Buddy group does not show possession of state environmental approval for discharge permits, according to a search of state databases.
[Disclosure: The editor of Cecil Times has adopted several pets from the CCSPCA and in the past served as an unpaid volunteer board member.]