WatchSonoma Watch

Another study of county animal control?

Veronica Ferguson


Sonoma County’s top executive is expected to ask supervisors Tuesday for approval to hire another consultant for the Animal Care and Control division, a request that comes as the county grapples with an unprecedented budget crisis.

The request also follows at least two in-depth investigations of the animal care division in the past four years, including a 2006 audit that cost taxpayers $65,000.

A county official said another consultant is needed because previous examinations did not deal directly with the ramifications of separating animal control from the Agricultural Commissioner’s Office.

That possibility is being floated following Agricultural Commissioner Cathy Neville’s controversial decision to abruptly fire Animal Control director Amy Cooper on July 12, 48 hours before Cooper’s yearlong probationary status was to expire.

The request to hire a consultant is likely to spark debate, as the county struggled to close a $62 million deficit in the general fund this fiscal year and is borrowing $290 million to pay off unfunded pension obligations.

“The reason for the recommendation is to make sure that we bring in the resources we need to do a thorough analysis of animal control and make sure it’s going in the right direction,” county spokesman Jim Leddy said Monday. “There’s always concern for spending money in this climate.”

Leddy could not provide an estimate of what the consultant would cost taxpayers.

In addition to that fee, County Administrator Veronica Ferguson is seeking 60 days before going back to supervisors with a recommendation for what to do with animal control.

The search for Cooper’s replacement, in the meantime, is on hold.

Cooper’s abrupt departure sparked protest and calls for her re-instatement among animal care employees and officials at other animal welfare organizations.

Neither Neville nor other county officials have publicly stated the reasons why the ag commissioner fired Cooper. They said personnel rules prevent them from such disclosure.

A county staff report prepared at Ferguson’s direction paints a positive image of the animal care division under Cooper’s watch.

The report, which is based on a county official’s interviews with animal control staff and other stakeholders, found that the agency is benefitting from greater transparency and credibility, that customer service has improved, that euthanasia rates have dropped and that community outreach is ongoing.

Those findings represent a sharp reversal of the conclusions contained in a 2006 Citygate report that was critical of animal control operations.

There were signs that the department was overcoming some of these challenges prior to Cooper’s hiring in 2009.

For instance, a 2008-09 county grand jury report concluded that a change in management coupled with efforts made by employees had rendered much of the concern moot.

“The Grand Jury believes that it is time for the public to recognize and appreciate the good work being done by AC&C,” the report stated.

Cooper’s supporters said she was building upon that recent success. They included Supervisor Valerie Brown, chairwoman of the board, who in April lauded Cooper publicly for helping to turn around the animal control division.

Should the agency be moved, it could result in Neville losing a significant amount of managerial oversight because 32 of the 63 employees who currently report to the agricultural commissioner’s office are assigned to animal control.

11 Responses to “Another study of county animal control?”

  1. Dan says:

    Don’t you just wonder where we find these people? No wonder our financial situation is so perilous. That state and local governments find themselves on the brink of insolvency, that programs and employees too expensive to maintain are being jettisoned like toxic waste, that new tax measures populate the ballot, it’s hard to believe any county employee could be unaware of the financial calamity surrounding us. Nevertheless, and quite incredibly, our local county officials continue to throw money away without the least consideration of where it came from. First, Agriculture Commissioner Cathy Neville fires popular and by all reports effective Animal Control Director Amy Cooper on the eve of completion of Cooper’s probationary period. Apparently without so much as single phone call or meeting to discuss with Cooper her shortcomings (if in fact there were any), Neville drops the ax with nary a concern to the taxpayers’ investment in the recruitment and retention of this key employee. Next, new County Administrator Veronica Ferguson decides we need to spend another $65,000 to hire a consultant to tell us whether Animal Control should be taken from the Ag. Dept. (or read another way, to tell us if Neville’s shoddy management style justifies a reduction in her responsibilites). Finally (for the moment, anyway), we still have to pay for recruiting efforts necessary to find Cooper’s replacement. And none of this takes into account the wasted hours of staff time devoted to the uproar caused by Neville’s ill-advised firing. No doubt Neville and Ferguson attended some class somewhere (paid for by the taxpayers, of course) where they learned their unique and questionable management styles. Too bad neither of them ever ran a business where the income side of the P&L gets equal attention as the expense side. Sure must be nice to have a job where all you have to do is find ways to spend money without ever thinking about where it comes from.

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  2. NorCal Vaportaker says:

    It appears to me that Ms. Ferguson is covering her a$$ by covering for Cathy Neville’s blunder. Instead of acknowledging that letting Cooper go was a mistake she’s delaying the matter and requesting tax-payers float 65K for an independent party to make suggestions and recommendations, essentially deferring responsibility.
    Something doesn’t jive, and in my experience the tone of leadership filters down from the top. I could be wrong but it appears our county’s top administrators lack a sense of accountability.

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  3. Ricardo Sorentino says:

    Even with all the upper, middle and lower management in all the county departments, have you ever seen any department head make a real decision without hiring an outside consultant? I’ve always wondered why the county is so top-heavy with administrators that needs so much hand-holding from private-sector consultants.

    On the other hand, I guess if Agricultural Commissioner Cathy Neville had hired a professional consultant to aid her in her decision-making, then maybe she would not have abruptly fired Animal Control director Amy Cooper, just hours before Cooper’s yearlong probationary status was to expire. In that situation, the cost of a consultant would have been much cheaper in the long run.

    Guess the taxpayers in Sonoma County just can’t win…

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  4. Allen Rafanan says:

    What a soup sandwich this has turned into. I don’t know what’s more insulting. The fact that these highly paid administrators need yet another consultant to help them make a decision, or the fact that they are asking for this consultant and they don’t even know what it costs. When this sad tale is all said and done, these county administrators will have left a trail of poorly-made decisions at every turn. It’s been so frustrating to watch this unfold.

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  5. @DogsRule: That’s called PROGRESS to the progressive’s who have taken over all aspects of our Government > local, state and fed.


    What we really need is a 65k consultant to help us sell good ol’ common sense with the theme….”Conservatism is Cool”.

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  6. Sheri Cardo says:

    From the absurd to the ridiculous. First, the county fires the only animal care director ever able to make substantive progress on the issues of importance to the community, then it hires a consultant to figure out what to do now that they’ve fired the director? Huh? We don’t need a consultant nor another study. We need to have Amy Cooper back as director and we need to move Animal Care & Control out of Ag. And until it is decided where ACC should be placed in the county bureaucracy (where it should be a standalone dept.), simply have Ms. Cooper report to the CAO on an interim basis. Problem solved. Community happy, staff happy, animals safe. It’s only hard if you make it hard.

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  7. More Tax Payers Money Wasted says:

    I want to thank the Press Democrat for pointing out the obvious, maybe if the Board of Sups sees it in print they will believe it. Don’t waste precious tax payers money on a consultant, use that money instead to recruit a new Ag Comm. Animal Care and Control has been and is moving in the right direction, they just don’t need an inexperienced department head to turn them back in the wrong direction.

    Very simple, reinstate Amy Cooper and make Animal Care and Control their own department so they can continue doing an awesome job!

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  8. Respectfully Submitted says:

    I can’t believe what I just read! The county needs to hire a consultant to assess the need to make ACC stand alone? Not to say the least about reinstating Amy Cooper! Let me offer some ADVICE!!! Listen to the public, Listen to the employees at ACC. Amy Cooper was highly respected among her staff and within the community. Cathy Neville must be held accountable for the injustice towards the innocent!! Cathy Neville has received a VOTE OF ZERO CONFIDENCE from the ACC Staff! One can only imagine what the vote would be within the AG dep’t. I am sure that her staff will stand up and be counted. The time is now to follow the example so bodly shown by the employees of ACC. You have nothing to fear! To all the ACC Staff WE THE PUBLIC are proud of your courage, strength and determination to stand up for what is right! We voters support you all the way. Thank You for your hard work and effort in protecting the Animals and the People of Sonoma County!

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  9. Dan says:

    Ms. Ferguson,

    Since you’re requesting funds to hire another consultant, please tell me from which pot of money these funds will be comming? What program(s) do you intend to sacrifice in order to pay for this study. You realize of course that we have only so much money to go around so I’m sure you’ve thought this through before making your request. I look forward to you reply.

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  10. Dogfather says:

    Yet another waste of time and money. If the Board of Supervisors believes AC&C should be pulled away from the Ag Commission, so be it, but don’t waste taxpayer money on a useless study. Just hire a new director. Get over it, and get on with the real work that needs to be done.

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  11. Dogs Rule says:

    Hey that’s a great idea. Why spend $65,000 on spay and neuter, vet care or adopting out homeless and abandoned animals when you can spend that much on a consultant? Who cares about exploding feral cat populations and dogs abandoned left and right in a difficult economy… when you can hire a consultant to figure out who should be the boss? Ponderous.

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