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County examines future of Animal Care and Control Division

By DEREK MOORE
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The ouster of Sonoma County’s animal care and control director has mushroomed into a drawn-out public fight that has moved the issue well beyond the fate of one middle manager.

Amy Cooper

County officials say the public outcry over Amy Cooper’s dismissal will fast-track discussions over whether the division she once headed should remain under the purview of the Agricultural Commissioner or become a separate department, as some have advocated for years.

“I anticipate this will be something that will come up in the short-term,” said County Administrator Veronica Ferguson.

Such a re-organization could be interpreted as a blow to Ag Commissioner Cathy Neville, whose decision to fire Cooper on July 12 — 48 hours before Cooper’s yearlong probationary status was to expire — was widely criticized by animal care employees and officials at other animal welfare organizations.

The controversy likely will gain a wider audience on Sunday thanks to a large ad that is scheduled to appear in The Press Democrat. The ad, which supports Cooper’s re-instatement, features the photo of a sad-looking dog with the word “Wrong” written above it.

Several agencies and individuals who support Cooper’s return are listed on the ad, among them the Sonoma Humane Society, Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue, Healdsburg Animal Shelter and Pets Lifeline.

Animal care employees, working with the Service Employees International Union, Local 1021, raised the nearly $5,000 to pay for the ad.

The union’s support of an ousted manager represents a unique twist on the usual order of things. Union spokesman Carlos Rivera said this particular issue involves principles of “justice and fairness” that transcends traditional employee-manager boundaries.

“We always advocate for things that are working well to continue working well,” Rivera said Wednesday.

Cooper’s supporters also plan to attend the supervisors’ meeting on Tuesday and air their concerns during the public comment period. Ferguson called such a public outcry “rare” in her experience as a county administrator.

Asked on Wednesday if Neville continues to have her support, Ferguson did not directly reference the animal care controversy but instead praised Neville for her department’s efforts to contain an outbreak of the European grapevine moth.

“To that extent, it’s really critical that we have someone with Cathy’s expertise leading that quarantine challenge,” Ferguson said.

County supervisors, in the meantime, are being roped into the debate after they early on expressed their desire to stay out of what they viewed as a private personnel matter.

Ferguson said she will outline several options for supervisors in closed session on Tuesday, including the possibility of bringing Cooper back.

“It’s not rocket science that there is a group of people that want to rehire Amy. That would be one option the board would want to talk to Cathy about,” Ferguson said.

Such a move would represent a direct rebuke to Neville, who serves at the discretion of supervisors. Should supervisors back Neville, that would surely anger animal control employees, who earlier sent letters of protest to supervisors demanding Cooper’s return.

Employees on Wednesday were scheduled to wrap up a third day of one-on-one meetings with a county official Ferguson designated to lead her investigation into Cooper’s dismissal.

Cooper earned $101,916 annually and was an at-will employee, which meant she could be dismissed for any reason without explanation. She has no right to appeal the decision.

Cooper claims she was given no reasons for why she was being let go. County officials, including Neville, have refused to discuss the matter, citing laws pertaining to personnel issues.

Ferguson said her office contacted Cooper this week to attempt to schedule an interview with the former animal care director.

Cooper on Wednesday declined to comment other than to say she is undecided as to whether she will agree to be interviewed.





11 Responses to “County examines future of Animal Care and Control Division”

  1. Scott says:

    For those of you on the outside looking in, perhaps a little bit of credit needs to be given to the employees that are rallying around Amy. Working with someone each day who can get 110% out of her staff, especially in times like this, is something to be commended for, not terminated. All you people out there that are looking to get your digs in probably have spent very little time, if any, at the County Shelter to see what really is happening. Face facts; you can’t save every dog and cat on the planet! If that’s your goal in life, then put your money where your mouth is and get up to support adoptions and good homes for those animals that are worthy. So what if the Union, the employees, and the private sector gave $5000 for the ad? These are the same people that are giving many times that to support spay/neuter programs, animal welfare, fostering, and adoption to good homes.
    Amy Cooper was finally someone who had her head on straight and saw a direction to take that department in so that the animals and the County all benefited. Having her ear chewed off by all the animal rights wackos out there that have been playing past (and current) Commissioners and Directors was what she was good at ignoring, and when those nuts couldn’t get their agenda pushed through, what happened? Goodbye Amy. ACC needed someone who was not just another puppet.
    As said before, Animal Control has no business being stuck with the Agriculture Department. Ask any Ag employee what happens down the street or in the field for ACC and they couldn’t tell you. Ask Cathy Neville what a vet tech does (or is), or how many cruelty cases the AC Officers investigate and prosecute, and she probably won’t be able to tell you.

    Animal Control has long been the target for criticism and negative slings, but is it worth it? Each of the 30 something employees does their job to save animals and promote responsible pet ownership and fair treatment of all creatures, so get off their backs for the tough jobs they sometimes have to do, and don’t blame THEM for the animals that are euthanized because there are no other options. I challenge any of you to find one animal ever put down at that shelter for no valid reason; and if you find one on that list, why weren’t YOU there to take it home?
    Animal Control needs the support of this community more now than ever. Stand up and show some support and respect for those people who are working for the animals. Go by the shelter and walk a dog in the sunshine. Stop and Animal Control Officer and thank them for protecting the public from vicious and dangerous animals, and for protecting the animals from vicious and dangerous people. Lets keep the who picture in focus here and recognize what a truly great organization ACC was becoming under Amy Cooper, and lets all hope that her reinstatement will only allow ACC to continue to grow and blossom, not only for the animals, but for all of us.

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  2. Steve'O says:

    PLEASE BRING BACK AMY COOPER!

    Thumb up 8 Thumb down 3

  3. bats555 says:

    It’s definitely a red light alarm when staff under Neville’s management is making statement’s like the quote below:

    Outside board chambers on Tuesday, Jeff Clemens, an animal control officer who has been speaking on behalf of the department’s 32 employees, said they won’t be satisfied with anything less than Cooper’s return.

    He added that many have also lost confidence in Neville.

    “I think it would be very difficult for our department to remain under the current management of Cathy Neville,” he said.

    Thumb up 11 Thumb down 1

  4. SEIU CRYBABIES says:

    @Dogs Rule

    The $5,000 is obscene. SEIU wants to decide which managers the County hires and fires now and if they spend this kind of money to pressure the County then maybe there’s a silver lining. It’s $5,000 less they’ll have in their bank account to fund their candidates in November.

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  5. walkingtall says:

    The only viable option is to reinstate Amy Cooper and make the Animal Contol agency a stand alone department. Do You really think that anyone is going to apply for the position? Especially under the irrational and unpredictable management of Cathy Neville. No one is going to risk accepting this position only to be terminated during their time of probation. The real issue is how the Board of Supervisors and verinica ferguson are going to deal with Cathy Neville for all the Damage she has caused to the Animal Control dep’t, the Animals and community of Sonoma County?

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  6. fedup says:

    I think that it’s incredible that Ms. Cooper’s former co-workers banded together to show support to her. I also think that Ms. Neville needs to find a job elsewhere. She obviously doesn’t care about the people under her and certainly doesn’t have their support.

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  7. Allen Rafanan says:

    In a time like this, the county needs a new department like a foot needs a sixth toe. It is becoming apparent that county leadership has missed the boat on how to deal with this issue. First the administrator reveals that department heads are individually responsible for their departments, that the county is “comfortable” supporting its department heads. Somehow those explanations (while quirkily legalistic) didn’t really satisfy the public did it?

    So now, as this public relations nightmare snowballs, the solution is to “reorganize” by creating a new department. Really? This is the kind of solution our highly paid public servants come up with? And just what is this “solution” going to cost? Probably a new $150 thousand bureaucrat plus another half-a-million dollar payroll for new staff. This kind of irrational problem solving is stomach turning. We should be filling potholes with this money, not making new unnecessary departments.

    Here’s another way to look at it. It is the Ag Commissioner’s job to handle ALL the Ag Commission’s work. This is everything from weights and measures to eradicating the grape moth to taking care of animal control. For years the county has claimed that it needs to pay these top administrators competitive wages in order to attract “talented” professionals. Time to put our money where our mouth is. If this Ag Commissioner doesn’t have the talent to eradicate the grape moth AND manage a high profile division like Animal Control, then get one that CAN do the job.

    Or we can act like grownups. If it’s in the best interest of the county to have Cooper come back, then just hire her back. Rebuke the Ag Commissioner and move on. If they’re as talented as advertised, they will learn to work together again. And they can console themselves by looking at their paychecks.

    And if creating a new department is what the county ends up doing to fix this mess, maybe the fixing should be done at a higher level, because maybe something is wrong with the talent up there, too.

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  8. Watch Pup says:

    It is past time for Animal Care and Control to be moved out of the Ag Department where it has never belonged. I admire the commitment of the employees to continue the struggle to rehire the only director in recent times (ever?) who has been able to make the positive changes our community has been requesting for years. It is obvious that the firing of Amy Cooper was an enormous mistake by Cathy Neville — let’s hope the CAO and supervisors rectify it by moving the department and hiring Ms. Cooper back, thus solving at least two problems.

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  9. Dogfather says:

    what a waste of money and ad space. $5,000 could have gone a long way for the shelter animals. Hopefully Amy Cooper knows what’s good for the animals at the shelter and stays out of Sonoma County for good. What a bunch of crybabies.

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  10. Dogs Rule says:

    Apparently the Sonoma Humane Society and the Healdsburg Animal Shelter, have extra money sitting around to contribute to $5,000 a full page Press Democrat ad for Amy Cooper.

    The Humane Society and Healdsburg better be funding their spay and neuter program this week and the rest of the animals need medical care. Is there $5,000 set aside for that?

    This government employees versus Neville debate is an outrageous distraction from the fundamental challenges facing Sonoma County ACC in a difficult economy. I’m disgusted.

    If Amy Cooper is reinstated – she will be very powerful and pretty much untouchable. I hope Ferguson is ready for that unintended consequence.

    $5,000 for an ad when Sonoma County ACC kills 650 dogs a year is just vomit worthy. The employees need to put their money together and BUY AN AD FOR THE ANIMALS TO GET THEM ADOPTED. Try that next time.

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  11. Dan says:

    Another case of government disconnect. Forty-eight hours before conclusion of Amy Cooper’s one year probationary period in a job that by all accounts she was performing in exemplary fashion, and with no word from her superiors that her performance was lacking, Ag Commissioner Cathy Neville, fires her. Evidently Ms. Neville made no effort to meet with Ms. Cooper in advance of her firing to discuss any shortcomings that may have existed in her performance or to discuss any corrective actions. Apparently without any regard for the public investment made to recruit Ms. Cooper a year ago and to pay her salary and benefits for a year, Ms. Neville simply fired her. The public be damned. Who cares about the thousands of dollars wasted in this experiment and the thousands of dollars yet to be spent recrutiting a replacement? Certainly Ms. Neville has no such concerns and thereby becomes the latest poster child for government disfunction. The matter now sits on the desk of County Administrator Veronica Ferguson where we will see if the interests of the taxpayers who pay for all this receive any attention. These government bureaucrats with little or no experience in the private sector have no appreciation or understanding of the taxpayer dollars they throw down the drain with their reckless decisions. Ms. Ferguson, please prove me wrong.

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