Cecil County Animal Control: Buddy Group Begins $2.25M Contract; Carletti Fronted $ for Bid; Dog-less ‘Shelter’ Farms out Pets to PA, Homes
A Cecil Times SPECIAL REPORT
A Delaware group associated with Mindy Carletti, a Perryville veterinarian who almost single-handedly wrote the countyâs new animal control ordinance, began its $2.25 million animal control contract with Cecil County with an open house at its animal-less âshelterâ on Appleton Road Wednesday. Virtually all the staff of the operation have ties to Carletti, who personally fronted a $40,000 letter of credit for the group to qualify it to bid, according to documents obtained by Cecil Times.
Other documents indicate that the outgoing Board of County Commissioners, in its final moments of existence before the shift to Charter government, suddenly doubled the duration of the contract with the Delaware group, A Buddy for Life, Inc., to three yearsâprecisely the time frame of the groupâs lease on the Appleton Road property, thus ensuring the group would not have to pay an unreimbursed $45,000 to its landlord. The Buddy group has no experience supervising employees and has never had its own shelter or handled animal control for local government.
Carletti was identified as the âstaff veterinarianâ for animal control by the Buddy group during a press conference held Wednesday at the groupâs leased building at 1750 Appleton Road in Elkton. However, under questioning Carletti said she would not receive a daily or monthly retainer feeâas she had requested under an interim proposal that the county rejected last fallâbut would be on call â24/7â to provide veterinary medical care to stray animals for the Buddy group.
Master of ceremonies for the unveiling was Richard Brooks, the Cecil County Director of Emergency Services, who was a key figure in the county staff review committee that urged the County Commissioners to give the contract to the Buddy group. He said that six animals currently under county care at a private kennel on Shady Beach Road under an interim animal control plan would be transferred to the Buddy groupâs custody.
The Buddy group has no dog kennels of its own and those six animals will take up a majority of the space the Buddies have leased to house dogs in Cecil Countyâ11 kennels at the private Rainwood Kennels on Hutton Road in Elkton, owned by Mary Thompson. (The new county animal law mandates that private boarding animals may not be co-housed with animal control strays, but some county officials say that Thompson will get around that rule by âseparatingâ potentially vicious or diseased strays from her ongoing private kennel clients.) A lease between Thompson and the Buddy group specifies kennels will only be provided on a temporary basis, until 8/1/13, and the Buddies will pay her $15 a day per kennel.
Under the county contract, the county covers the costs of eight days of boarding for stray or lost animals.
However, a sign posted at the Buddy offices states that citizens who reclaim a lost pet will be charged a $25 per day fee, plus veterinary costs of shots or other servicesâapparently provided by Carletti. Under the new contract, the Buddy group can keep such âredemptionâ fees for its own purposes.
Other documents submitted to the county show that the Buddies have another âshort termâ arrangement with a Chester County, PA kennel, Vixen Hall Kennels in Oxford, PA. The documents did not specify how much the Buddies would pay that facility. At the press conference, Buddy representatives said they had a backup plan to lease space for 11 dogs at that out-of-state facility.
In contrast, the Cecil County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Inc. (CCSPCA)âthe former animal control contractor with the county for decades– owns its own shelter in Chesapeake City with 50 on-site dog kennels, and an open cat room, that local residents could visit to visually search for lost pets or seek animals to adopt.
Under the new contract with the county, signed on 11/30/12, the county will pay the Buddy group $60,000 a month for three years, plus $10,000 cash in up-front startup expense support, plus purchase and equipping of two animal control vans, estimated to cost a total of about $80,000. (The county will own the vans and lease them back to the Buddies for $1 a year.) All told, the pact will cost taxpayers about $2.25 million over three years.)
(In contrast, the countyâs contract with the CCSPCA for the current Fiscal 2013 budget year was $624,000. The basic annual Buddy payments under the new contract amount to $720,000 a year, not including the add-ons under their new contract. Thus, the county is paying more money to house many fewer animals in potentially non-local locations.)
The Request for Proposals published by the county called for a contract duration of 16 months and initial versions of the contract between the county and the Buddy group provided for that term, with the possibility of future extensions on an annual basis. But at the last minute, the Three AmigosâCommissioners Diana Broomell (R-4), Michael Dunn (R-3) and now replaced James Mullin (R-1)– suddenly voted on 11/30/12 to turn the pact into an ironclad three-year deal. Commissioner Robert Hodge (R-5) opposed the extension, as did then Commissioner and now County Executive Tari Moore.
That step was taken without public explanation for the shift, other than Mullin and Broomell saying that the new group needed three years to establish itself. Hodge said giving a three-year deal to an inexperienced service provider with no kennel of its own was âinappropriate and irresponsibleâ and he questioned the cozy relationship between the vendor and âcertain commissionersâ that appeared to be tailoring the contract to meet the desires of the Buddies.
Documents obtained by Cecil Times suggest that there was another reason for the sudden shift to a three-year deal: bailing out the Buddies on their obligations to their landlord. Documents submitted to the county show that the Buddy group was obligated to a three-year lease term with its landlord for the Appleton Road property. So the sudden contract duration extension would cover the full term of the Buddy groupâs financial liability to its landlord, who would in turn then get a three-year assurance of rental payments. The shift amounted to an additional $45,000 subsidy to the Buddies.
The landlord, F. Jeffrey Asti, wrote in a letter to the county that he had executed a lease with the Buddy group âfor three years.â The lease specified that the Buddy facility was to be housed in a small building at the front of the property for up to eight months, and later they would move to a large warehouse-type building at the rear of the property for the duration of the three-year lease term. (The warehouse currently houses Appleton Trucks, which also fills most of the parking spaces on the property with various trucks and auto chassis and burned-out auto bodies.) A church, Divine Presence Fellowship, is also on the site, next door to the current Buddy âshelter.â
However, the front property was denied a needed zoning variance in December by the countyâs Board of Appeals, which agreed with neighbors that a dog kennel at the site would be a nuisance, cause traffic problems and other issues in the nearby residential community. The warehouse at the rear of the property would not need a zoning variance.
Despite the loss of zoning approval for the front property, that is where the Buddies have now opened their âshelter,â including three small rooms where they plan to house up to 60 cats in open, cage-less surroundings, A tour on Wednesday showed the largest room had wooden shelves attached to the walls with blankets tossed over them, a closet-sized room with no heat but a portable heater in a corner, and a third closet-sized room used for storage but which the Buddies said would be cleared out for housing cats.
A county building permit, issued 12/28/12, was posted outside the building and stated permission had been granted for construction work for âoffice space to animal rescue.â
Eric Sennstrom, the countyâs Planning and Zoning director who also served as a member of the county âreview committeeâ that recommended giving the contract to the Buddies, told Cecil Times that he thought it would be OK under zoning law to house up to 60 cats in the building because the zoning code only mentioned dog kennels. Although the new animal control ordinance specifies licensing and other rules for catteries, Sennstrom said his department only enforced the zoning code, not the animal ordinance. The Buddies will be in charge of enforcing the animal ordinance.
Meanwhile, other documents obtained by Cecil Times show that Carletti personally signed for a $40,000 “letter of creditâ issued by Cecil Bank to support the Buddy groupâs bid under the RFPâs requirements. Other documents show that Carletti is the legal resident agent for the Buddy group on its registration with the state to do business in Maryland.
Carlettiâs money bailed out the Buddy group in the bidding process, since the groupâs most recent filings as a non-profit organization with the federal Internal Revenue Service listed only about $6,000 in its bank account, with no employees, no facilities for cats and no dog kennels. Crystal Litteral is listed on the federal filings as the president and only officer of the Buddy group and Litteral alone signed the animal control contract with Cecil County and related documents.
But on Wednesday, Litteral was introduced as the âco-executive directorâ of the Buddy group, along with Jenn Callahanâa longtime personal friend and employee of Carlettiâas another âco-executive director.â Litteral said that in the future Callahan would be listed on the groupâs filings with the IRS as a âdirectorâ of the Buddy group. Callahanâs name is listed as a âwitnessâ on multiple documents filed in conjunction with the Buddy groupâs bid for the animal control contract and she attended most meetings related to negotiations of the contract, sources said.
The Carletti ties were evident in other new principals of the group handling animal control. Heather Buckley was identified as an animal control officer to apprehend strays and enforce animal laws in the county. She said she previously worked as an unpaid âvolunteerâ at Carlettiâs All Paws animal hospital. [UPDATE: Court records list Buckley as living at Carletti’s Elkton home, and court records show Buckley has been involved with Carletti in litigation seeking to obtain custody of a child from its parents.]
Buckley said she had no experience or training as an animal control officer. âIâm training with Gerry,â she said, referring to Gerald Hawkins, a former Cecil County SPCA employee until last summer.
Hawkins, who has certification in animal control through a training course at Carroll County Community College that was paid for by the Cecil County SPCA, was identified as the Buddies âchief animal control officer.â During discussions of animal control in the past several months, he acted as an adviser to Commissioner Broomell, who on several occasions invited him to testify at commissioner worksessions.
Edie Crick was identified as a âvolunteerâ for administration for the Buddies. Crick served as what she called âan administrative assistantâ for the former Animal Control Task Force appointed by the County Commissioners in 2009 to review the countyâs animal laws. She was never officially appointed by the commissioners to the panel, but she said on Wednesday that she was named âadministrative assistantââtaking notes at meetings– by remaining members of the task force. Most of the task force members left the panel in late 2010, after delivering a proposed ordinance that was put out to public hearing 2/1/11.
However, Carletti and Crick subsequently re-wrote that proposed ordinance for another year and a half, including multiple provisions that had been previously rejected by the broad-based original task force. The Carletti/Crick revisions were adopted by the usual Three Amigos majority vote of the county commissioners last summer, with Hodge and Moore voting no.
Crick said Wednesday that she was currently unemployed, after being laid off by Ashland in late November, but she said she did not anticipate her work with the Buddies would become a paid job.
Meanwhile, Callahan said that dogs who were still unclaimed at the end of the county-subsidized eight-day holding period would be transferred to âfoster homesâ in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Delaware. She said that Cecil County residents would not have to travel out of state to search for their lost pets but it would be âon usâ to retrieve the animals and âbring them hereâ for families to be re-united with lost pets. She did not explain how the current âshelterââwhich is not allowed by zoning law to house dogsâcould provide such services.