Cecil Co Exec Moore Wants More $ for Unbid Animal Control Contract for Her ‘Buddies'; Council Budget Snubbed
A CECIL TIMES SPECIAL REPORT
Cecil County Executive Tari Moore will ask the County Council next week to approve a $24,000 budget increase to give her preferred animal control contractor, A Buddy for Life, Inc., an extra $4,000 a month on their six-month extension of a three year contract. Moore unilaterally extended the Buddies’ contract without Council approval, while she looks for a kennel to buy at an unspecified taxpayer expense, that could be operated by the Buddies.
Now she is looking to give the Buddies even more money on their current unbid, unilateral $271,000 six month contract extension, and would take the additional $24,000 out of county reserve funds, according to the text of her proposal to the County Council. Moreover, her proposal is a slap in the face to the County Council, and especially Council President Robert Hodge (R-5), who proposed and won Council approval of a budget cut in the animal control spending account for Fiscal 2016 as part of the Council’s successful efforts to reduce Moore’s spending plans that would have boosted property taxes for the first time in three years.
Moore’s latest spending increase proposal also comes at a time when the Buddies have not been providing the level of services specified in their contract, which requires employment of two Animal Control Officers to respond to calls for help with stray dogs running at large, animal bites of humans, dangerous animals and animal abuse or neglect complaints. Sources told CECIL TIMES, and county Director of Administration Al Wein recently confirmed, that the Buddies have had only one animal control officer since November.
In addition, CECIL TIMES has learned that a Delaware veterinarian recently met with senior county officials to voice concerns about the medical condition of some animals treated in her animal hospital shortly after their adoption from the Buddies. And CECIL TIMES has confirmed there was a recent police response to a call regarding an alleged altercation at the facility in Elkton, where the Buddies rent most of the site for kennel space, involving a former Buddies employee and the owner of the facility.
Furthermore, the resolution submitted to the Council by Moore states that it is “the first addendum to the Cecil County Animal Care and Control contract effective January 1, 2016 between Cecil County, Maryland and AB4L (A Buddy for Life.)” That language suggests Moore could be planning even more contract extensions with the Buddies—despite the fact that a formal “Requests for Proposals” (RFP) issued last August called for competitive bids on an 18-month contract. After her unilateral extension of the Buddies contract, there are only 12 months remaining in that timeframe, in the Fiscal 2017 budget year beginning 7/1/16.
The current three-year contract with the Buddies, approved in the final minutes of the old County Commissioners board ruled by the former controversial “Three Amigos” majority in 2012, was due to expire on 12/31/15. But last month, Moore announced a unilateral six-month extension of the Buddies’ contract, saying that she wanted more time to consider purchase of a kennel facility with taxpayer funds. [SEE previous CECIL TIMES exclusive report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2015/11/cecil-co-exec-moore-to-buy-animal-shelter-outside-bid-process-put-county-in-debt-extends-contract-with-buddies-for-6-months/
At that time, Wein and county attorney Jason Allison told CECIL TIMES that the contract extension would not require a budget amendment and would live within the $50,000 per month spending ceiling set by the County Council for the final six months of the current budget year. Wein said then that the county would take over the Buddies’ $15,000 per month lease on the Rainwood Kennels—owned by retired county Circuit Court Judge Dexter Thompson and his wife, Mary—and the Buddies would be paid $35,000 per month for animal care and animal control services, to live within the remainder of the Fiscal 2016 budget allocation. (For the first six months of the current budget year, Moore decided to pay the Buddies $60,000 per month, leaving the balance of the year to absorb the spending reductions—a time period that was supposed to be covered by new bidders under the RFP.)
However, the new resolution submitted to the County Council states that Moore’s administration agreed to pay the Buddies alone $271,000 for their services for six months—or $45,166 per month—and Moore now wants to add another $4,000 per month to the Buddies, for a total of $49,166 per month. The resolution does not specify any increased or reduced payments by the county to the Thompsons for kennel rental fees on top of direct payments to the Buddies.
CECIL TIMES called Wein for clarification of the spending boost resolution and its rationale, and will update this report upon his response.
In addition, Moore’s latest spending boost resolution carries other hidden costs to taxpayers and benefits to the Buddies, with a provision stating that the county’s vehicle “fleet” service contractor would take over all maintenance/repair services for two trucks owned by the county but leased to the Buddies for $1 a year each. In the past, maintenance of animal control vehicles was the responsibility of the contractor. The resolution provides no estimates of the costs of this new taxpayer expense. (That proposal might come as a surprise to citizens who lease cars and are required to pay all repair and maintenance costs of the vehicle while it is under lease.)
Moore’s spending boost resolution is scheduled to be introduced to the County Council at its next morning worksession, on Tuesday 1/5/16.
Contacted by CECIL TIMES while he was out of town for the holidays, Hodge said Wednesday that he had only just learned of Moore’s new budget request that was formally sent to the Council and he said he was “disappointed.” He said he had no conversations or communications from Moore about her spending increase request or animal control matters “within the last month.” Hodge said he would not comment further, until he heard directly from the administration on its rationale and justification for the spending boost for the Buddies.
Meanwhile, CECIL TIMES learned that an animal control officer, Heather Buckley, was no longer employed by the Buddies as of early November. Wein confirmed her departure to Cecil Times and stated that the Buddies were “diligently working on a plan to bring the staff up to two.” He did not explain how the Buddies could obtain the services of a qualified animal control officer willing to work for just the six months of the extended contract, or whether there had been assurances of extended employment after the current six-month extension of the Buddy contract with the county. Buckley was hired as an animal control officer by the Buddies, despite no formal training or direct experience for the position, while she was the then-fiancée of Mindy Carletti, a veterinarian who is the leading sponsor and public advocate of the Buddies.
In addition, Maryland State Police confirmed a recent Tuesday afternoon incident at the Rainwood Kennels in which Buckley—by then no longer a Buddies animal control officer— complained that Mary Thompson, the owner of the Rainwood Kennels rented by the Buddies, had “bumped” her during an alleged altercation. A State Police spokesman said that troopers responding to the call observed no visible signs of injuries and took no police action, advising the individuals that if they still felt aggrieved they could file civil complaints in District Court.
Wein told Cecil Times that the county was aware of the police-responded incident and had voiced “concerns” to “the landlord and the victim” about the matter and said the county viewed it as “potentially damaging to the county.”
Wein declined to comment when asked about the recent meeting by senior county officials—identified by sources as Wein and county attorney Jason Allison—with a Delaware veterinarian who voiced concerns about the medical condition of some animals seen at her practice shortly after their adoption from the Buddies shelter. “I can’t comment on that,” Wein said.
Meanwhile, Moore continues to look for a kennel facility to purchase with taxpayer funds, on top of which the county would need to obtain the services of an organization or operator to provide direct care of animals and animal control/capture services. She has been operating outside the scope of the RFP for animal care and control services, which included an option for someone to sell a property to the county but Wein and Allison previously acknowledged to Cecil Times did not yield an offer to sell a property to the county.
[SEE previous CECIL TIMES SPECIAL REPORT here: http://ceciltimes.com/2015/11/cecil-times-special-report-moore-seeks-to-buy-kennel-in-residential-area-rfp-oversight-panel-buddies-questions-loom-large/
By extending the Buddies’ contract unilaterally for six months—and now looking to give the group another $24,000 on that deal—Moore appears to be looking to keep the Buddies happy until she can deliver a county owned property for them to operate.
But unclear—and something that the County Council has the power to investigate, if indeed it has the guts to do so—is whether any other vendor applying under the rules of the RFP would have offered full animal control and animal sheltering services for the $50,000 per month specified in the county budget for the 1/1/16 until 6/30/16 six month period. The RFP demanded that bidders break out their proposals to specify a six-month bid for the balance of the current budget year, along with a separate bid for the full year Fiscal 2017 budget year.
CECIL TIMES has reported extensively on the Fiscal 2016 budget, and the Council’s actions regarding the animal control budget, so it is likely that at least some of the bidders would have heeded the budget realities of the second half of the current budget year. Council members might well ask why they are now being told they must exceed that budget figure to give an unbid bonus to the Buddies, when there might well have been other bidders who respected the Council’s budget mandates—but whose proposals were ignored by Moore.
Under the county’s Charter, the Council holds the purse strings—virtually the only power it has in a form of government that was written to give the County Executive largely unfettered power. But the one other significant power the Council has—and has never used—is its power to “investigate” operations of county government and the Executive.
Under the Charter’s Article 2, entitled “Investigations by the Council,” the County Council “may investigate the affairs of the county and the conduct of any county agency. The Council may subpoena witnesses, administer oaths, take testimony and require the production of evidence…”
The handling of animal control, unilateral extensions of contracts and RFPs without County Council approval, and the potential increased burdens on taxpayers of Moore’s current fiscal proposals, and her apparent future plans regarding a kennel property purchase, all suggest that the Council may need to re-examine its role in county government and re-assert its oversight role.