By DEREK MOORE
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County’s Animal Care and Control Division will be under new management on Friday.
Will that eventually include Amy Cooper?
Cooper’s firing in July was the catalyst for an agency re-shuffling that culminated Tuesday with a majority of county supervisors approving the animal division’s transfer on Friday to the Department of Public Health.
Still in question is whether Cooper will be rehired. Animal care employees have been advocating for Cooper’s return in the wake of Agricultural Commissioner Cathy Neville’s decision not to renew the former director’s contract.
Rita Scardaci, who as director of the county’s Department of Health Services will oversee the hiring of a new animal care director, said after Tuesday’s meeting that she had yet to determine the next step.
“I’ll be meeting with human resources and following the county process,” she said.
Cooper’s attorney has said that discussions with the county on her possible return have been on hold pending a decision on transferring animal control.
That hurdle was cleared Tuesday when Supervisors Valerie Brown, Shirlee Zane and Efren Carrillo gave final approval to Friday’s move.
Supervisor Paul Kelley left prior to the vote to go to a meeting in Sacramento and Supervisor Mike Kerns was absent.
The board on a 4-1 vote had previously approved County Administrator Veronica Ferguson’s request to move animal control from the Agricultural Commissioner’s Office to public health.
Animal care employees, who applauded Tuesday’s decision, said they are still hopeful that Cooper will be brought back as part of the transition.
“It’s going in a good direction. We’re all hoping Amy is going to be a part of that,” said Bob Garcia, a supervising animal control officer and the division’s interim manager.
Cooper’s dismissal on July 12 sparked an uproar among animal control employees, nearly all of whom signed protest letters sent to supervisors demanding her re-instatement.
The firing also prompted Ferguson and her staff to conduct an investigation into animal control, leading ultimately to her recommendation that the agency be transferred.
A county analyst on Tuesday told supervisors that the move will not cause any significant budget impacts nor result in staffing changes.
The public also is unlikely to notice any changes in animal control services during the transfer, according to Garcia.
For Neville, the move diminishes her oversight role as ag commissioner and reduces her department’s annual budget of $8.67 million and 63 employees by about half.
On Tuesday, Neville sat in the audience alongside several public health officials, including Scardaci.
Neville is scheduled to be arraigned Thursday in Sonoma County Superior Court on misdemeanor charges of drunken driving.
The 53-year-old ag commissioner was arrested Sept. 10 on Highway 116 near Graton after a CHP officer spotted her Nissan Sentra weaving and drifting into the right-hand shoulder.
Neville’s blood-alcohol level was 0.11 percent. It is illegal to drive at levels of 0.08 percent or higher.