By DEREK MOORE
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County supervisors on Tuesday delayed deciding what do about the Animal Care and Control Department in the wake of a controversial firing, but they balked at hiring a consultant to help with that analysis.
County Administrator Veronica Ferguson had asked supervisors for 60 days and the authority to hire a consultant as she weighs whether animal care should be separated from the Agricultural Commissioner’s Office.
That became a possibility after Ag Commissioner Cathy Neville decided to fire Amy Cooper on July 12, 48 hours before the former animal care director was to become a permanent county employee.
Supervisors on Tuesday instead gave Ferguson about a month to come back to them with a recommendation, and urged her to do the analysis in-house rather than spend money for an outside consultant.
“There’s a definite angst in the community that we are not moving quickly enough to address these concerns,” said Supervisor Efren Carrillo. He acknowledged some “obvious issues pertaining to personnel issues” but said that he would not discuss them.
Several speakers on Tuesday criticized supervisors for not addressing those concerns, and specifically, the widespread calls for Cooper to be re-instated.
“There was a terrible wrong done to the department and it needs to be addressed,” Myma Spiegler said.
Added shelter volunteer Robin Johnson: “Let’s not fix what wasn’t broken. Please don’t waste taxpayer dollars on a consultant. We already have found the right person for the job, and that’s Amy Cooper.”
Neither Neville nor other county officials have publicly stated the reasons the ag commissioner fired Cooper, citing personnel rules as barriers to that disclosure.
But comments that Neville made during Tuesday’s meeting were interpreted by some animal care employees and managers as criticism of Cooper.
Asked by a supervisor if she supports the county’s analysis of the animal care department, Neville answered by saying that “everybody needs to keep in mind” that the shelter is supposed to serve animals from within Sonoma County, and not those from outside the area.
“I can’t stress that enough,” she said.
Neville declined to say after the meeting whether her comments amounted to criticism of Cooper. “I’m not talking about Amy Cooper,” she said.
She did say that she would not interpret moving animal care from her department as a sign of disagreement with her decision to fire Cooper.
“Not at all,” she said. “I don’t think it has anything to do with that. I think it’s time to look at the proper placement for animal care.”
Several animal control employees said the intended target of Neville’s remarks during Tuesday’s meeting was clear to them.
“I took it as a slam against Amy Cooper,” said Jeff Clemens, a supervising animal control officer who watched the proceedings on TV. “It was such a pathetic, cheap shot, and it had no validity.”
In October, about three months into her tenure, Cooper approved taking in 25 dogs from Monterey County’s animal shelter to help ease crowded conditions there.
Six dogs were brought to Sonoma County from Monterey in December, followed by another transfer in February. Shelter staff did not have those numbers available Tuesday.
Shelter supervisor Cathy Fenn said all of the dogs were adopted, save for two that had to be destroyed because of illness.
She said R.J. Kamprath, a vocal shelter critic, raised questions about the transfers, including that other dogs allegedly were destroyed to make room for the Monterey animals and that the adoptions skewed the shelter’s data on euthanasia rates.
But Fenn said the shelter had space for the transferred dogs. She said the dogs could have been logged separately from in-county animals so as not to alter the data but she did not know Tuesday if that had occurred.
“A lot of people thought we brought them in to make money. Adoptions don’t make us money,” Fenn said. “We just thought it was a way of helping another agency that was overflowing with dogs.”
Whatever the case, the transfers were not a secret, and were written about in the February edition of Paw Prints, the shelter’s monthly newsletter.
Clemens said the practice fulfilled one of the missions that Neville had outlined for Cooper, which was to collaborate with other animal welfare agencies.
“Sonoma County has always been willing to help out other shelters,” Clemens said. “If we had room, we would help offset shelters that were bursting at the seams. And if we had a surplus of cats or dogs, other shelters would reciprocate. It was a win-win.”