Cecil Co Exec Moore Proposes Animal Law Changes; Consolidates Power on ‘Advisory’ Panel, Drops Veterinarian Consults

July 31, 2015

Cecil County Executive Tari Moore on Friday submitted to the County Council proposed changes to the county’s animal law that would convert an independent citizen ‘oversight’ panel into an ‘advisory’ board dominated by county government officials to supervise the county’s private animal control contractor. The revisions also remove language allowing the panel to consult with a licensed veterinarian on animal matters.

Moore unilaterally suspended operations of the Animal Care and Control Oversight Commission (ACCOC), which was established under county law, several months ago after an incident following a panel meeting when several Girl Scouts were allegedly subjected to racial slurs outside the county building. The scouts spoke up to advocate humane treatment of animals housed at the Elkton shelter rented by A Buddy for Life, Inc., which holds a $2.24 million county animal control contract. A videotape of the incident has gone viral on the Internet and reports of the incident have received state, national and international media attention. [See Cecil Times Special Report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2015/05/cecil-county-animal-oversight-panel-loses-members-girl-scouts-dissed-for-comments-race-slurs-alleged-moore-budget-continues-720k-costs/ ]

Cecil Times requested a telephone interview with Moore to discuss her new proposals on Friday. Instead, county administrator Al Wein and county attorney Jason Allison responded, saying Moore had asked them to reply to Cecil Times questions about her proposals.

Under Moore’s proposals, the five-member citizen’s oversight panel reporting “to county government” would be converted to an “advisory board” reporting directly to the county executive. Instead of five citizens, one nominated by each County Council member from his or her district, only one citizen could be nominated by the full Council with Moore deciding whether or not to approve the appointee. One other citizen—solely picked by Moore—would also have a seat on the panel.

A three-member controlling majority would consist of county government officials, including the county Sheriff, the county Health Department director, and the county’s Director of Finance, currently Winston Robinson. The Sheriff is elected independently although much of his budget is determined by the County Executive in her annual spending proposals. The Health Officer, currently Stephanie Garrity, is technically a state employee but much of her budget, too, is supplied by the county and Moore has been particularly generous in channeling county funds, including casino impact aid, to anti-drug programs operated by Garrity’s department. Robinson serves in his post at the pleasure of the county executive and is a member of her senior staff.

Allison, the county attorney, would be designated by the new proposals as the attorney for the advisory panel. He has served in that capacity previously on an informal basis.

One of the more surprising moves in Moore’s proposal was the deletion of language in current law that stated “The Board shall as needed call upon a veterinarian with a valid veterinary license to consult within his or her expertise.” The law also specified that any vet so consulted would not be paid a fee by the county.

Wein said he did not know why that provision was deleted from the new proposal. At one point on the existing ACCOC, a veterinarian served as a member but she resigned last year. As constituted in Moore’s new proposal, unless one of the two citizen appointees had a veterinary background, none of the officials included has such expertise.

Moore also dropped the county-paid “holding period” for stray animals from eight days in current law to just five days in her new legislative proposal. The Buddy for Life group is currently being paid $60,000 a month by the county to cover an eight-day period and their contract runs until the end of this year. The legislation projected it would become law on September 15 if approved by the County Council.

Asked if the Buddies contract might be revised to reflect several months with a shorter, five day county-paid holding period, Allison and Wein said they might change the effective date to 1/1/16—when a new contract for animal control will begin. The county is issuing a new “request for proposal” seeking bidders on animal control services when the current Buddy pact expires 12/31/15.

Allison said he did not believe the current contract with the Buddy group would allow for a reduction in the amount paid by the county even if the holding period were reduced.
Moore’s reduction of the holding period is an apparent effort to cut some county costs in the future.

Wein said it was hoped that the re-constituted “advisory” panel would work in a more collaborative fashion than the old citizen ACCOC, since it would include people with direct knowledge of issues. For example, the Sheriff’s department often deals with animal control officers out on the streets, and the Health Department is tasked by state law to deal with animal bites and rabies issues. And Allison said that inclusion of Robinson would bring assurances of financial expertise to the process of reviewing quarterly reports of expenditures by the contractor. The county finance office also deals with issuing dog and kennel licenses and collecting license fees.

Another change involves those quarterly financial and activity reports from the contractor. Under current law, the ACCOC is specifically directed to “review” the vendor’s reports at its own quarterly meetings, with reports submitted by the contractor seven days before the meeting. The new provisions delete the requirement for the new advisory panel to review the reports at its public meetings and only specifies that the reports must be submitted to the county 20 days after the end of the quarter.

“They can review whatever they’d like” regarding the contractor’s performance, Allison said. “And we expect they will.”

Allison added that language was beefed up to “compel” the contractor to attend the advisory panel’s meetings, whereas current law did not have such a “mechanism” to require the vendor to appear. (In practice, representatives of the Buddy group have appeared before past ACCOC meetings, although they often refused to answer questions posed by panel members.)

A substantial new section of the animal law, dealing with inspection of the animal control facility, provides for “independent third party” annual inspections as well as inspections pre and post contract. Allison said the county wanted to address citizen complaints that the Buddies were “self-regulating.”

Currently, the county has conducted announced-in-advance inspections including several county officials and a retired Pennsylvania veterinarian who was selected with the contractor’s concurrence. Allison said under the new rules, the county alone would select the person or group to inspect the animal shelter.

He and Wein said there was no third-party group or person currently in mind to conduct such inspections.

Wein said the Moore administration views the proposed revisions as relatively “minor” and the “advisory board” may get more involved in proposing other changes to the county’s animal ordinance in the future.

The ACCOC, which was tasked under current law to propose suggested revisions to the animal ordinance, rejected that duty on a 3-2 vote in April, 2014, when a majority supporting the Buddies tabled a motion even to have a discussion of citizen’s requests for review of the law.

Since Moore suspended operations of the ACCOC, a scheduled July meeting was canceled so there was no public review or advance release of the required quarterly report of finances and operations by the Buddies. However, Cecil Times has obtained the documents and will be filing a separate report soon. Analysis of the data shows that citizens continue to do the bulk of the task of bringing strays and surrendered animals to the Buddy group’s rented shelter, with county-paid animal control officers apprehending a minority of the animals brought to the facility.

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3 Responses to Cecil Co Exec Moore Proposes Animal Law Changes; Consolidates Power on ‘Advisory’ Panel, Drops Veterinarian Consults

  1. Harold McCanick on July 31, 2015 at 9:49 pm

    I smell a rat. How ironic the phrase”financial expertise” was used when the citizens of this county have endured three deficit budgets in a row now.

  2. Dawn George on August 7, 2015 at 7:22 pm

    Minor changes? Oh, thats right. Since most residents are not aware of the atrocities by the Buddies and what the current regs are, I can see Moore and company trying to state these are “minor changes.” …[For]Moore, Wein, Allison, et al these changes will effectively alleviate these officials of hearing from citizens how badly they have handled animal control and enforcement of the county contract. Allison, as usual, gave an excuse for dealing with the Buddies and reducing the stray hold now. The county can simply look at the number if stray holds, multiple by the redemption fees and simply pay the Buddies the exact amount of money they should have been getting all along.

    I have akways questioned the amount of money budgeted for animal control to begin with. If they truly meant to enforce the contract, why would it be necessary to pay them $60,000 per month? That is a lot of stray holds that were to have been estimated per month, don’t you think?

  3. Mary Wilson on August 9, 2015 at 6:20 pm

    I don’t get why the county executive would drop the law part saying the review board could consult with a “licensed veterinarian.” Why? If there is nothing to hide about the Buddy for Life group, or any other group, why would Mrs. Moore try to stop the “advisory board” from asking for the expertise of a vet? Does she think her current “Buddies” have something to hide and she does not want someone with the medical background to look at them? This smells like a pile of dog poop.

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