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Employees seek reinstatement of Sonoma County Animal Control director

By DEREK MOORE
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Despite a troubled history that has brought high-profile attention to Sonoma County’s animal shelter, neither County Administrator Veronica Ferguson or supervisors knew in advance that the agency’s top official was losing her job this week.

Amy Cooper.

Nevertheless, Ferguson on Thursday said that she stands behind Agricultural Commissioner Cathy Neville’s decision to remove Amy Cooper as director of Animal Care and Control.

“We’ve chosen to stand by the department head,” Ferguson said.

That support comes amid a growing chorus of criticism within the county shelter and in the network of animal welfare agencies over the decision to remove Cooper from her post.

Twenty seven of the 32 animal control employees submitted letters of protest to county supervisors on Thursday demanding that Cooper be reinstated.

“This was a shock to our department. The Animal Care and Control staff disagrees with this decision,” the letter states.

In a highly unusual move, the signatories included two of the division’s three highest-ranking managers, including Bob Garcia, who was tapped by Neville to lead the organization until a successor for Cooper is found.

“I think all of the employees here really felt very close to Amy,” said Garcia, who has been with the department for 35 years. “Amy was a good manager. I think that they (employees) didn’t really get a good explanation as to why. I think they are just trying to find out.”

Cathy Fenn, who supervises the county’s shelter on Century Court, also signed the letter.

In accordance with county rules, the job of animal care director includes a year of probationary status, which means Cooper, who earned $101,916 annually, was considered an at-will employee and thus could be dismissed for any reason without explanation. She has no right to appeal the decision.

Neville pulled the trigger Monday, 48 hours before Cooper’s probation was to end.

County officials on Thursday broke three days of silence regarding Cooper’s departure but still would not say why she was removed from her position.

“That’s a confidential job performance issue that can’t be shared,” Ferguson said. “If Amy chooses to talk about it, that’s one thing. Clearly, it’s not our role.”

Ferguson responded to the protest letters signed by animal control employees by saying she has an obligation to listen to their concerns.

“I would first encourage the department head to sit down with employees,” she said in reference to Neville. “I have an open-door policy. If they have a concern, I would encourage them to come to me.”

But Ferguson did not appear inclined to overrule Neville and re-instate Cooper, saying that department heads are “individually accountable for running their departments.”

Supervisor Valerie Brown, the board chairwoman, said on Thursday that she “understands why people were taken aback by the decision” to remove Cooper — a decision the Brown said she was not aware of in advance.

Brown declined to go into the reasons why Cooper was removed — calling it a personnel matter — but she addressed comments that she made at a board meeting in April warmly praising Cooper for a “total turn-around” at the shelter.

“I think when we got the report six months ago, there was the sense that things were moving in the right direction,” Brown said Thursday. “I can’t really comment on what happened in the last six months. We haven’t gotten a report from them.”

In reality, it’s only been three months since that meeting, underscoring how quickly Cooper went from being lauded for her work to losing her job.

Cooper has not returned several messages this week seeking comment.

By outward appearances, the animal control division under Cooper’s watch appeared to be meeting the goals set for it by Neville and county supervisors.

In the last quarter of 2009, the rate of animal deaths at the shelter fell to 28 percent from a 43 percent average in fiscal 2008-09. Cooper was roundly praised this week by the leaders of other animal welfare organizations who said she had made strides in developing partnerships to help meet common goals.

Cooper and the Sonoma Humane Society were also on the verge of announcing a partnership using the society’s Highway 12 facility for spay and neuter surgeries, which in theory would lower costs for pet owners, according to Kiska Icard, the society’s executive director.

The program would seem to address one of the issues that supervisors and Neville announced as among their primary concerns: lowering the cost of spay and neuter programs and expanding them to reach a wider segment of the county’s population.

Icard was among the officials at animal welfare organizations to express concern this week about the affect Cooper’s departure would have on their own programs.

Icard on Thursday said Neville told her the county is still committed to the spay and neuter partnership with the Humane Society.

Ferguson said she does not believe that Cooper’s departure will forestall the progress she said has been made at the shelter, which she called one of the county’s most vital programs.

“I don’t see it regressing or moving away from the goals that were outlined by the department heads and by the board with regard to what they want to achieve in animal care,” she said. “If anything, this issue has brought to light the importance of stating and re-stating that the county is committed to quality animal care.”

Ferguson acknowledged Cooper’s role in recent successes but said the full credit belongs to the entire organization.
“Amy certainly was instrumental in making that happen, but I don’t think she was alone in that,” Ferguson said.





11 Responses to “Employees seek reinstatement of Sonoma County Animal Control director”

  1. Proud Animal Activist Wacko says:

    As far as us “wackos” doing something before the arrival of Amy Cooper, we were plenty involved with the shelter. Unless this is the first time you’ve actually paid any attention to what is happening in that hell hole, you’d already know that.
    Without the “wackos” this shelter would have been in a far worse place than it is now. Pay attention, Mickie.

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  2. Enough Already says:

    The Agricultural Commissioner, and the County Administrator should be held accountable. The Commissioner did not communicate performance problems to the Animal Control Director before failing her on probation? The Administrator did not know what was happening in the Commissioners office? Who is in charge of insuring taxpayer dollars are well spent and public interest met? Appears no one…

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  3. Mickie Cinollo says:

    The County Shelter is an open admission shelter. That means that they accept all animals regardless of space or adoptability. It’s easy to be “No Kill” when you turn away animals that arent easy to place. “No Kill” is often code for “Ship it elsewhere and kill it” usually to the County Shelter. The shelters euthanasia numbers include animals requested to be euthanized by their owners, nuisance wildlife that are prohibited from being released by fish and game laws and severely sick, injured, suffering or aggresive animals that either cannot be saved or are not safe to be in our community.
    The Shelter works extensively with rescues but they do not release animals to everyone who claims to be a rescue without legitimate and legal rescue status (501.c3.) This is to avoid collectors/hoarders and people who just want an animal without paying the fees (which dont even come close to covering shelter costs such as vet care, vaccines, surgery and microchips.)
    As for the “Wackos” being responsible for the drop in euthanasia numbers, why didnt they do something before Amy came? It seems a little strange that the numbers went down so much after Amy arrived.

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  4. NOTUTOO says:

    County personnel on probation are never given a reason for dismissal when they are let go. That goes for heads of departments to the lowest worker. You can, by law, fire a probationary employee without cause as long as they’re probationary. This department head does not officialy know herself why she was fired. Had they given her a reason she would then be able to grieve the firing. Obviously her works did not compensate for whatever reason she was let go without cause. It could be anything, from porn on the computer to using a county credit card for personal reasons to just a bad personality clash. We’ll never officially know. speculate away…

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  5. Mickie Cinollo says:

    The critical Animal Shelter Director position would be filled again so there would be no savings to the county by loosing Amy Cooper. Besides Amy is well worth the money as she brought together employees, volonteers, other animal agencies, the community foundation and many others for the sole purpose of providing improved services for the citizens and animals of Sonoma County. She wrote a grant proposal and recieved $15,000 for Spay/nueter programs as well as thousands in funds to improve the shelter livestock area, imlemented the shelters e-newsletter, officer profiles and more. Her only critisism seems to that she put boundries on the vocal minority of extremests instead of spending taxpayer money wasting her time catering to them.

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  6. catlover says:

    How many animals could have been saved with $100,000 a year ( or even half of that )? 28% of our animals killed? that’s too many … I work in animal rescue and the shelter has refused to release some animals that might have been saved … these animals were killed instead.

    We need a progressive thinker in that position. We need a no kill shelter that utilizes all resources to save animals.

    The silence surrounding this issue is so familiar. This is our shelter and our animals and we need all information made public.

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  7. Allen Rafanan says:

    County leadership is really falling down here. Apparently there is a department head who is not communicating to the supervisors or the administrator about important personnel issues. Clearly the removal of a high-profile manager is NOT something that should have surprised the management. But up the chain there is an administrator who has no satisfactory answers except that “department heads are individually accountable for running their departments.” So basically we taxpayers WHO PAY THESE PEOPLE HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS are expected to think that this is just how it works and everything will be okay.

    This is a disaster. Elected leaders should recognize that sticking their heads in the “confidential personnel issues” sand is insufficient. At the very least they should review Neville’s performance. Maybe even this weird “individually accountable” policy adopted for department heads.

    These services don’t belong to department heads; they belong to the taxpayers.

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  8. The Dogfather says:

    Just because the last review was positive, doesn’t mean the second will be as such. In the State of California, Amy Coopers employment was “At Will.” Meaning she could quit, or be dismissed for anyreason, or no reason at all. If it comes down to saving the taxpayers $101.000 annually, so be it. A big part of those euthanasia numbers dropping was due to us “wackos” on the outside applying pressure. Don’t be so quick to give Amy Cooper all the credit.

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  9. Hotseatmama says:

    Maybe the wrong person was fired. The Board of Supervisors should take a good hard look at the Agricultural Commissioner. Has she had a performance evaluation since coming to this county a year and a half ago????

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  10. Doggus Poooopus says:

    1.Somebody is patting themselves on the back for saving $101,000 a year.
    2. Somebody felt threatened by someone doing their job well.
    3. all of the above.

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  11. goodbyemike says:

    So Agricultural Commissioner Cathy Neville fired Amy Cooper 48 hours before her probationary period was to end. Somthings stinks worse than a wild skunk here.

    Thumb up 38 Thumb down 4

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