Cecil County Ethics Panel Cites Animal Oversight Chair in 4-1 Vote; Dissenter Questions Mind-Readers; Yelton Protests to Council, Exec

July 9, 2015


The former chair of Cecil County’s troubled animal control oversight panel has been found subject to “reprimand” by four members of the county’s Ethics Commission—but it’s a moot point because the chair, Lyn Yelton, already resigned several months ago. A dissenting opinion challenged that conclusion and said other members were trying to punish someone for “what we think someone intended to do,” but didn’t do.

The outcome of the ethics panel’s action was also seen as a potentially damaging blow to efforts to get knowledgeable volunteers to serve on various county unpaid advisory panels. And Yelton has appealed for “exoneration” to the County Council and County Executive, over what she called an “outrageous” finding that will have a chilling effect on public discussion of issues and the county’s policies and programs.

It was also the latest installment in a troubled history of the Animal Care and Control Oversight Commission (ACCOC), which was established under a new county ordinance that was largely written by Mindy Carletti, a veterinarian closely tied to A Buddy for Life, Inc., which currently holds a more than $2.24 million county contract for animal control that the ACCOC is supposed to monitor. It was Carletti who filed the latest complaint with the ethics panel, sources told Cecil Times, just as it was Carletti who filed an earlier complaint in 2013. Yelton, a retired financial analyst with an MBA degree, had consistently raised substantive questions on the Buddies’ finances and operations during ACCOC meetings.

Currently, the ACCOC’s operations have been suspended unilaterally by County Executive Tari Moore, following a recent incident after an ACCOC meeting when Girl Scouts, including African-American children, were subjected to racial slurs after they urged more humane treatment of animals at the Buddy shelter. [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/ ]

(That was the first meeting held after Yelton resigned from the panel.) Reports about the incident, including links to past Cecil Times news coverage about the ACCOC and the Buddies group, have gone viral on the Internet and in mainstream media, including Baltimore TV and the respected The Independent newspaper in London, UK.

In an opinion signed in mid-June and obtained by Cecil Times, the Ethics Commission concluded that Yelton should not have placed on the ACCOC’s agenda for the 4/22/14 meeting an item for discussion of whether to consider citizens’ requests for review of the overall current animal control ordinance as well as its provisions dealing with fines and fees. (The county animal law empowers the ACCOC to review the ordinance and make recommendations on possible revisions to the County Executive.) But no discussion of the substance of those issues was ever held, the ethics panel conceded, after a 3-2 majority of the ACCOC voted to table the agenda item so there would be no action or discussion.

But, because Yelton owns a dog boarding kennel, she might have had a conflict of interest on kennel license fees, if such a discussion were held. The ethics panel conceded that, as the chairwoman, “it may have been a correct exercise of the duties of the chair to place the subject… on the agenda.” But by voting against the majority’s move to table any discussion, Yelton was in “violation” of the ethics law, the majority declared. The panel did not take into account the fact that she might have recused herself from any discussion, if it had ever occurred, of fees that might affect her kennel beyond the broader animal law issues.

In a three-page written dissent, Ethics Commission member Nicholas Cusmano asserted that the majority was wrong to conclude that, if a discussion had taken place on fees and fines, Yelton would have participated. But in fact no such discussion occurred, and “I do not feel it is reasonable for us to find fault with what we THINK someone intended to do” in a potential discussion that did not occur.

Cusmano also noted that testimony indicated that the content of the agenda for the meeting had been submitted for review by county administrator Al Wein and Jason Allison, the county attorney, and they had voiced no objections to the agenda item. (Cecil Times has attended most meetings of the ACCOC and both Wein and Allison are usually present, as they were for the disputed 4/22/14 meeting.)

“It’s clear to me that Ms. Yelton was put in a nearly impossible position. I fear this finding could have a chilling effect on the ability to attract competent volunteers willing to serve the citizens of Cecil County,” Cusmano wrote.

When members of the five-seat ACCOC were nominated by County Executive Tari Moore and ratified by the County Council—whose members each proposed a resident of their district—it was stated that the panel was supposed to represent a wide array of “stakeholders” in animal issues, such as dog kennel owners, horse advocates, cat rescues, a veterinarian and a science educator who also trained service dogs.

But the ethics panel’s latest ruling contends that no one associated with a dog kennel should sit on the ACCOC: “The commission re-states its belief that so long as the respondent or other individuals are actively involved in operating kennels for profit, it should be understood…they are ineligible to serve on the ACCOC.”

The ethics panel did not address other potential conflicts of interest, such as operators of animal ‘rescue’ organizations that may have ties to the Buddies contractor. The self-nominated acting chair of the ACCOC after Yelton’s departure, Ricky Lewis II, operates the Cat Crusaders group that has close ties to Carletti and the Buddies. He has consistently acted as an advocate for Carletti and the Buddies while sitting on the ACCOC.

Indeed, the real issue of the 4/22/14 ACCOC meeting that resulted in Carletti’s complaint to the ethics panel had nothing to do with the disputed agenda item—which took just a few minutes to dispose of—but instead focused on Yelton’s suggestion that in the interests of public health and the welfare of feral cats there should be a map of feral cat colonies in the county. Carletti and Lewis angrily challenged that suggestion and claimed that public health and animal welfare entities had no right or public interest to know where such colonies were living. [SEE Cecil TIMES report on the meeting here: http://ceciltimes.com/2014/05/buddies-cat-pal-attacks-chair-of-animal-control-oversight-panel-mapping-of-feral-cat-colonies-in-cecil-county-proposed-as-carletti-erupts-in-protest/ ]

Recently, a nearby Harford County feral cat colony supposedly supervised by cat rescue groups was found to be home to a cat that tested positive for rabies and public health authorities warned citizens to avoid any contact with such feral cat colonies.

The Ethics Commission majority signing the decision against Yelton consisted of Robert Boonstoppel, the current chairman and a lawyer; Michael Dixon, a historian; Joseph Cline; and Valerie Falcioni, a former chair of the ethics panel and a long-time ally of former County Council member Diana Broomell.

In a response letter to Boonstoppel obtained by Cecil Times, Yelton pointed out that she had received numerous requests from citizens to review the animal control law and, as chair of the ACCOC, she was acting under her duty to bring citizen concerns to the full panel. And in a closed-door hearing of the ethics panel, multiple citizens testified that they had requested such an ACCOC review.

Yelton said that if a full discussion of the law had occurred, which it did not, “I would certainly have recused myself if kennel issues had come up for discussion and/or a vote. For you to assume otherwise is not following the letter of the law—innocent until proven otherwise. There was never a discussion.”

Yelton also contended that the ethics panel’s private hearing on Carletti’s complaint refused to allow her to enter into evidence details of Carletti’s “personal attacks” on Yelton. Nor did the ethics panel allow Yelton to “document the apparent conflict of Dr. Carletti,” who wrote the new animal law, provided financial support of the Buddies bid for the county animal control contract and maintains substantial personal and professional relationships with the Buddies.

“The Ethics Commission has done me a grave injustice,” Yelton wrote to Boonstoppel. And followed to its logical extension, the majority’s rationale would bar anyone who owned a pet or had any substantive involvement with animals from serving on the ACCOC.

“I fear your ruling will clearly deter others from volunteering,” Yelton said.

And in a separate letter to members of the County Council and county executive Moore, Yelton observed that her service on the panel was “an education at best and a disaster at worst.” She called for “immediate exoneration” from the council and Moore.

She also asserted that a former chair of the ethics panel that she did not name told her to “stop wasting his time” with her protestations of innocence and that an ethics hearing has “nothing to do with what’s right or wrong.” (During the time frame cited by Yelton, the ethics panel was chaired by Bruce Hemphill, a lawyer in Elkton, county officials confirmed.)

Yelton also asked County Council members to review the Ethics Commission process, which she said is “terribly flawed.” And she stated that continued county support of the Buddies in their animal control contract “is a major disservice to the citizens and the animals.”

County Councilor Alan McCarthy (R-1), a licensed veterinarian who nominated Yelton to the ACCOC, said he thought the ethics panel ruling was “embarrassing” and would send a negative signal to anyone considering volunteering for an advisory panel. “We just named some new people to the Economic Development Commission and they are involved in business and economic development,” McCarthy noted. “Should we just appoint people who know nothing” about the issues they are supposed to offer advice about?

Last summer, McCarthy made an unannounced visit to the Elkton kennel the group rents from retired county Circuit Court Judge Dexter Thompson and his wife, at a fee of over $15,000 a month that is paid by county taxpayers, and declared the premises “a mess,” with unhealthy dogs confined to wire crates in areas with no running water for sanitation.

Meanwhile, an upcoming mid-July scheduled meeting of the ACCOC has been cancelled, after Moore’s unilateral decision to suspend the oversight panel’s operations, even though its duties are mandated and spelled out by county law. County law also requires that quarterly financials are to be sent to the county by the Buddies 10 days before an ACCOC meeting.

Wein, the county administrator, told Cecil Times the financial reports would be made public separately from the ACCOC. In addition, he said that the county executive plans to develop a “request for proposal” (RFP) for animal control services after the current 3-year contract with the Buddies expires on 12/31/15. The RFP is targeted for release by 7/15/15, he said, and at the same time the executive plans to propose some “minor changes” in the animal control ordinance and a proposal dealing with “oversight” of the animal control contractor.

Moore has previously stated she wants to end the citizen oversight and instead install county government employees that she supervises, such as Richard Brooks, the emergency services chief who was a leader in selecting the Buddies to take over the county animal control contract.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

6 Responses to Cecil County Ethics Panel Cites Animal Oversight Chair in 4-1 Vote; Dissenter Questions Mind-Readers; Yelton Protests to Council, Exec

  1. Jeannette H on July 10, 2015 at 9:21 am

    This county is an embarrassment. Is there not someone in this county with a half of a brain? Collusion is everywhere. What qualifications does Brooks have to be in charge of animal control? He was instrumental in getting Buddy’s to begin with. It’s been nothing but problems and complaints…Who in the world is going to bid on an RFP that’s already showing signs if bias except for Brooks Buddy’s.

  2. Donna Moore on July 10, 2015 at 10:40 am

    I am not an animal lover but can’t resist commenting about this county government and the handling of something as simple as animal control. It appears to me that if Tari Moore (no relation) is doing such a smash up job, this entire sector of county government would have been resolved by the stroke of her pen and a telephone call. Maybe we need to invite Governor Hogan to assist in educating Tari on how to run government.

    She has done more to kill any interest of enterprise considering Cecil County by her inept handling of the budget, animal control, business growth and her unrealistic view about where this county is going as opposed to where it should be going. Maybe the Ethics Commission should be looking at Tari’s relationship with the current animal control group instead of Ms. Yelton who was appointed to a commission which was acting as the scapegoat for county government…

  3. Mike R on July 11, 2015 at 11:50 am

    I had to read this a couple times. More wasted time and taxpayer money spent on animal control and who does Queen Tari appoint but the very high priced Richard Brooks. At his salary, his hours as a county employee should be filled with important duties directly pertaining to his qualifications and not some perceived problem that could have been resolved over 2 years ago by cancelling the Buddy’s contract. So she’s putting out an RFP, wow, is she going to set up this RFP to make sure that the current group has the benefit? My crystal ball tells me it won’t change.

    Who in their right mind would want to perform animal control under the oversite of a bunch of unrealistic, inexperienced county employees who have been brainwashed into believing that animal care and control must be no kill. Can’t happen, some animals are better off being euthanized for health reasons and you have to protect the public from dangerous and vicious animals that could attack and kill or injure people. You cannot save everything that comes in.

  4. Penny G on July 19, 2015 at 5:10 pm

    Cecil County government and Tari Moore’s administration of it are an every day worse embarrassment. So if “mind readers” can slur an average citizen who is trying to offer help, what will Mrs. Moore do to stop such sillyness?

    • Harold McCanick on July 21, 2015 at 5:21 am

      Throw more tax dollars at it,of course.

  5. Harold McCanick on July 21, 2015 at 5:19 am

    This lady had animals’ best interest at heart. ABL has been corrupt since their bogus contract award. Guess which way the Broomell ethics appointee (who has her own ethics issues) voted.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Fine Maryland Wines
Proudly made in Cecil County