Three Groups Bid on Cecil County Animal Control; Council Backs Down on Citizen Control of Advisory Panel

October 4, 2015

Three groups have submitted bids to handle animal control and animal sheltering services for Cecil County government, including the current contractor, the former contractor, and a Delaware animal shelter group. In addition, the County Council has backed down from a plan to give citizens a majority of seats on an animal control “advisory” board under heavy pressure from the County Executive to retain her control of the panel.

By the 10/1/15 deadline to submit sealed bids and detailed plans for providing animal services, the three bidders applying were A Buddy for Life, Inc., the current contractor; Cecil County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Inc, which held the county contract for decades before the Buddy group was given a three-year pact; and First State Animal Center and SPCA, of Camden, DE. The names were announced by staff of the county’s Purchasing Department as the envelopes were opened but no details were provided on dollar amounts requested or which of several options for bidding had been selected under a detailed “Request for Proposal” (RFP).

According to the RFP, a panel of administration officials will review the submissions and conduct “negotiations” with individual bidders this month. The County Executive will select the winning bidder and submit a proposed contract to the County Council for its review next month. The effective date for a new contract will be 1/1/16 and will cover an 18-month period. The current Buddies’ contract, which cost the county over $2.24 million, expires 12/31/15.

The three bidders represent groups with experience handling animal control and animal shelter services. Several potential vendors without such experience—including a pest control service operator from Chestertown—who attended a mandatory pre-bid meeting did not submit formal bids to the county. [SEE previous CECIL TIMES article here: ]

[UPDATE: CECIL TIMES was physically present in the room when the bids were opened and only the three bidders cited here were announced and we witnessed the opening of envelopes that confirmed only three bidders. HOWEVER, the county Purchasing Department has posted on its website the alleged submission of a bid by “Wildlife Damage Control” — the Chestertown pest management company– as bidder number 4. How this “bid” could be listed as a viable option when there was no such submission revealed at the public bid opening we witnessed is inexplicable. We have phoned county administrator Al Wein for clarification and will further update this report upon his response.]

The RFP allows bidders to offer a variety of options, including full animal control and animal sheltering services; animal sheltering services only; or offering a property for sale to the county for operation of its own facility at government expense. The Buddy group rents a kennel in Elkton from former county Circuit Court Judge Dexter Thompson and his wife. The Cecil County SPCA owns its own shelter in Chesapeake City. The Delaware group has a shelter in Camden, DE but its executive director previously told Cecil Times he would obtain local shelter space in Cecil County to house animals during a county-paid “stray hold” period, before eventual transfer to the group’s main shelter.

The county currently pays the Buddies for an eight-day stray holding period, before the animals become the property of the “rescue” side of the organization which then seeks permanent adoptive homes for dogs and cats. However, County Executive Tari Moore recently proposed cutting back the holding period to five days, which is the number of days the county had previously covered for many years. She said the move was a cost-cutting effort.

Moore’s proposal was contained in legislation sent to the County Council to amend several sections of the county’s animal law. But after hearing concerns from the public and questions raised during a pre-bid meeting of potential vendors for the new contract, the Council changed the definition of the holding period from five “calendar day” to five “business days.”

County Attorney Jason Allison told Councilors at a worksession that the practical effect of the definition change would be higher costs and most animals being covered for seven days of care at county expense.

During a public hearing on the animal law revisions and Citizen’s Corner comments at evening Council meetings, multiple local residents challenged another proposal by Moore to include just two citizens—one appointed by the Council and one selected by herself—on a revamped animal control “advisory board” that would be dominated by local government officials. The advisory panel will replace the former Animal Care and Control Oversight Commission (ACCOC) that Moore suspended unilaterally in the spring, after feuding factions of the all-citizens panel resulted in gridlock and vacancies.

But County Council members, citing the concerns at the public hearing, moved ahead at a 9/15/15 worksession to add two more citizens to the advisory panel, thus giving citizens’ majority control. Council President Robert Hodge (R-5) noted the hearing testimony and said that while the old ACCOC was “a mess” it was the “personal agendas” of some members that had caused the problems.

“This is gutting the proposal and frankly I wonder why,” Allison protested, saying that the administration’s plan to keep citizens in the minority on the new panel was “very richly thought out.”

But the Council’s resolve didn’t last out the day, and by the time of the 9/15/15 evening meeting, Hodge was alone in trying to propose an amendment to boost the citizen role. He couldn’t get a second on a motion so it died.

Councilor Alan McCarthy (R-1), who is a veterinarian, quickly offered a motion to approve the whole package of animal law changes “as proposed.” But Hodge and other councilors pointed out that they still wanted to clarify the five “business days” instead of Moore’s “calendar days” plan. So after approving an amendment to specify “business days” for the stray hold period, the resolution was adopted 4-0. (Councilor George Patchell, R-4, was absent from the evening meeting.)

The about-face on inclusion of more citizens on the advisory board clearly came after a few hours of arm-twisting by the executive’s administration. With the exception of Hodge, councilors who had supported the expansion in the morning suddenly changed their position without a word of explanation at the evening meeting and rushed to pass the measure with only one change from the executive’s proposal—the ‘business day” language.

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