WatchSonoma Watch

County weighs future of Animal Care and Control Department


Sonoma County supervisors are likely to weigh in next week on the future of the county’s Animal Care and Control Department, a month after the abrupt firing of the department’s director ignited a storm of protest.

Cathy Neville

While details of the board’s discussion were still being hammered out Tuesday, County Administrator Veronica Ferguson said it probably will include options for separating animal care from the Agricultural Commissioner’s Office.

Commissioner Cathy Neville’s decision to dismiss Amy Cooper on July 12 was greeted with widespread criticism from animal care employees and from officials at other animal welfare agencies.

Neville stands to lose significant managerial oversight because 32 of the 63 employees who currently report to her office are assigned to animal care and control.

Amy Cooper

She also likely would suffer a sharp reduction in her agency’s budget, which was $8.67 million for this fiscal year.

Ferguson said Tuesday that the issue does not amount to a referendum on Neville’s job performance. Rather, she and other county officials portrayed it as a re-examination of departments that, in the case of animal control, predated Cooper’s departure.

“What I’ve focused on is what we do well at the shelter, and how do we keep doing it given the strides that we’ve made,” Ferguson said.

However, any discussion of how to reorganize departments does not address concerns of critics who have been clamoring for an explanation of why she fired Cooper 48 hours before Cooper’s year-long probationary status was set to expire.

It also does not address calls that Cooper be re-instated to her job.

Nearly every employee at animal care and control, including the department’s three ranking managers, submitted letters of protest to supervisors demanding Cooper’s re-instatement. Other employees helped pay for a newspaper ad that denounced Cooper’s firing.

Officials at other animal welfare agencies have echoed that sentiment.

Ferguson dispatched a county analyst to interview animal care employees. Those interviews, which are set to wrap up on Thursday, will form the basis of recommendations forwarded to supervisors.

County officials say personnel laws prevent them from publicly discussing either Neville’s job performance or the reasons for her decision to fire Cooper.

Neville, who did not return a call seeking comment Tuesday, already has given her version of events to supervisors in closed door meetings.

Cooper was scheduled to meet with a county human resources manager today for what the county billed as an exit interview.

She declined comment when reached Tuesday. She 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.

Supervisor Valerie Brown, the board’s chairwoman, said she feels “a little more of a comfort level” over the decision Neville made after hearing from the ag commissioner.

But Brown, who in April lauded Cooper publicly for turning around an agency that has had two directors since 2006 and faced a barrage of criticism, said supervisors still are not satisfied with the way Neville handled the situation.

“I would not characterize the meeting with Cathy as being one where she believed the board said, ‘We understand and it’s OK.’ The board is unhappy with what happened,” Brown said.

Still, Brown said it’s “unlikely” that Cooper will be asked to come back.

“We’re actually looking at a broader base of options,” she said.

Supervisor Shirlee Zane said Cooper’s possible return is still “a question mark” and that there are “two sides to every story.”

She said her concern is that supervisors not be perceived as micromanaging a department head.

“I’m not interested in micromanaging them in any way, but at the same time, this issue obviously is not going away,” she said.

West county Supervisor Efren Carrillo declined Tuesday to discuss what he called a personnel matter. But he suggested that he will support moving animal care to another department.

“As it stands, I think there’s a better fit for animal care and control in the county structure,” he said.

Supervisor Mike Kerns declined comment while Supervisor Paul Kelley did not return a phone call.

Ferguson said she does not have a preferred option for what to do with animal care and that she is waiting on the staff report and feedback from supervisors.

County staff also surveyed 38 other California counties and learned that animal care is under the jurisdiction of the ag commissioner’s office in only four of them.

Most of the counties align animal care with their health and human services departments, the analysis found.

11 Responses to “County weighs future of Animal Care and Control Department”

  1. More Tax Payers Money Wasted says:

    According the Board of Sups Agenda for Tues, the County Administrator is recommending they hire a consultant to evaluate Animal Care and Control, in turn, waisting more of tax payers money. Why would they do that when they have experts right under their noses? Bob Garcia for one, he’s worked in the field for over 35 yrs, talk to him, he knows what’s best for Animal Care and Control, not some over priced outside person.

    If you can make it Tuesday morning at 8:30 in the Boards Chambers, please show up and express your concerns and support for Animal Care and Control.

    They need to be their own department and to bring Amy Cooper back!

  2. Maverick says:

    Does Amy Cooper ever smile? That image of her ir quite unflattering.

  3. Doesn't Get It says:

    Obviously Neville doesn’t get it. She is in it for herself and doesn’t care who she steps on. As another writer wrote you reap what you sow, it’s only a matter of time before Neville finds out what that means.
    Please keep sending your letters, emails and phone calls to Veronica Ferguson and the Board of Sups. This matter is on the Board’s agenda next Tues at 8:30am, be there is you can and speak on behalf of Amy Cooper and Animal Care and Control, they need your support!

  4. I just gotsta know? says:

    Dear Cathy Neville,,,,,Do you now see how foolish your decision was?
    Do you have any regrets?
    Do you not see the outcry from the community?
    Does’nt it bother you that you caused considerable hurt to Amy Cooper, The Staff and the Community? Or don’t you care?
    Don’t you see how your career/termination is now in question?
    Don’t you see how you have brought yourself to ruin?
    Just remember, there are consequences for your actions, and you are now seeing them. My advice is that you ask forgiveness from those you have offended and most of all from God above!

  5. concerned citizen says:

    They dont need a director for 32 emplyees the Ag commisoner should mange the facility they have a couple of Supervisors and a newly hired and created position of Assistant Director how many more layers of management do you need. Are they going to get assistants for the animal control officers (dog catchers)next?

  6. Allen Rafanan says:

    I think it’s evident that Neville is a poor manager, but I am not on board with establishing a new department out of this. The County does not need more management; it needs leadership and fiscal discipline. We- yes WE taxpayers- have been paying a premium to get these “top shelf” candidates, and it’s time we expect them to do the job they’re paid to do. In this case, it’s manage a high profile animal control division within the framework of the ag commission. Maybe we need a new department head, not a new division. These are lean times, and real leadership can figure this out without growing the bureaucracy. Spend the money on fixing potholes instead.

  7. Watch Pup says:

    I would imagine that most agricultural commissioners would prefer not to manage animal services since it is a highly specialized and challenging area with which they usually have no experience. So it is encouraging to read that our supervisors are seriously considering moving Animal Care and Control out of Ag as many in the community have requested. Thank you for that! Now please dispense with the cover the county’s you-know-what tactics and make the mature decision to rehire Amy Cooper as the director. That is the only way this community is going to be able to move forward from this Neville-caused fiasco.

  8. bear says:

    This is what you get with two supes running away, two who don’t know what they’re doing, and one who won’t really comment. Good luck on other issues!

  9. bats555 says:

    I hope the BOS has the COURAGE and CONVICTION to do the right thing. Reinstate Amy Cooper, as 95% of her staff and 2 out of the 3 top managers at Animal Care and Control want her back. Would make the staff happy and won’t have an expenditure (especially in this budget crisis situation)on a new search for a director.

  10. Moving Forward says:

    Sounds like the Board has got part of it right. They agree Animal Care and Control needs to get out from under the Ag dept, hopefully they realize that if they put them under another county department they will still have the same issues. Animal Care and Control is a unique business and shouldn’t be thrown under any one, they should stand alone. The other part of this re-org includes Amy Cooper. Sonoma County Animal Care and Control is considered one of the top animal control agencies in the nation, let’s keep it that way!

  11. Robert says:

    How is it possible that this is not a statement about her job performance? It absolutely SHOULD be a statement about her job performance, and most notably her incredibly deficient decision making process. I have no idea what ever possesed Neville to fire Cooper on the very last day of her probationary period, but it has been pretty well established by the VOTERS in this county that her decision to do so was a terribly misguided one. The ELECTED supervisors would be wise to remember what the PEOPLE in this county think about this whole bizarre incident. It’s not Cooper who should be shown the door.