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WatchSonoma
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Cooper gets her old job back

Amy Cooper

By DEREK MOORE
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County has rehired Amy Cooper to lead the Animal Care and Control Division, nine months after Cooper’s controversial firing sparked investigations, a department reorganization and the dismissal of the county agricultural commissioner.

“I’m pleased to have been selected for the second time,” Cooper, 49, said Friday.

Cooper’s return, while rumored for weeks, nevertheless is a surprising turn of events in what has been a monthslong saga that began when former Ag Commissioner Cathy Neville fired Cooper on July 12, two days before Cooper’s 12-month probationary status was to expire.

County supervisors initially threw their support behind Neville, saying they did not want to micromanage a department head or second-guess decisions that she made.

But that was before a barrage of protest from animal control employees, other animal welfare officials and the public led supervisors and County Administrator Veronica Ferguson to rethink that stance.

Ferguson did not return messages seeking comment Friday.

Cooper’s firing sparked a county investigation that ultimately led the Board of Supervisors in September to authorize the transfer of Animal Care and Control from the Ag Commissioner’s Office to the Health Services Department.

Animal Care has 28 full-time employees, including 10 animal control officers, and a budget of $3.8 million. The agency operates the county’s largest animal shelter, taking in nearly 6,000 animals annually.

Cooper said Rita Scardaci, director of Health Services, contacted her more than a week ago to offer her the position. Cooper said she took a couple of days to think it over before she accepted.

Scardaci did not return messages seeking comment Friday.

Bob Garcia, interim manager of Animal Care and Control, said employees clapped when Scardaci informed them Friday morning that Cooper was coming back.

“We are very, very happy of course with the decision. My prayers were answered,” he said.

Supervisor Efren Carrillo, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, said he and other supervisors were notified Friday that Cooper was Scardaci’s choice.

He said he believes the county “has selected the best person for the position,” in Cooper, who was among 65 new applicants for the job.

Asked whether it was necessary in that case for the county to go through months of wrangling just to rehire Cooper, Carrillo referenced civil service rules that he said require a competitive selection process.

Carrillo said the board still has no interest in micromanaging department heads despite what would appear to be a repudiation of Neville’s decision to fire Cooper.

In this case, “the board felt the (animal care) division could have the potential to be better managed” by moving the agency to health services, Carrillo said.

Cooper called it a “good question” when asked why she would want to return given the upheaval of the past nine months. She said she wants to continue doing what she considered good work with a “phenomenal” staff. She said the community support she received in the aftermath of her firing also made a difference.

“There wasn’t a week that went by that I didn’t receive an email or a call from someone saying that we (animal care) were doing good work and that they were hoping for my return. That matters,” she said.

Cooper said she believes she can be an effective leader and make tough decisions — including making staffing cuts if that is what is necessary for budget reasons — despite owing her return in significant part to the employees who rallied to her defense.

Nearly every animal care employee submitted letters to supervisors in which they demanded Cooper’s reinstatement. Service Employees International Union, Local 1021, which represents the rank-and-file, also took out an ad in The Press Democrat urging Cooper’s return.

Cooper said she also doesn’t foresee tension with county supervisors. She will be paid $102,000 annually, plus $51,000 in county-paid benefits. The salary is the same as in her earlier tenure.

She said she again be an at-will employee for her first year back, which means she can again be dismissed for any reason without explanation. She has no right to appeal the decision.

“Would it have been preferable to have that shortened or taken off the table? Of course,” Cooper said. “But I need to respect the civil service rules.”

Cooper starts Tuesday.

Neville, in the meantime, is suing the county to get her job back.

Carrillo, acting with the authority of the board, fired Neville on March 22 for reasons neither he nor Neville will divulge. Her attorney alleges it was political retaliation for Neville firing Cooper.

Neville did not return a call Friday seeking comment.





27 Responses to “Cooper gets her old job back”

  1. Ricardo Sorentino says:

    RE: TheObserver – “My guess is that Ms. Neville would rather tell her story to a jury than the Press-Democrat. She has a better chance of a fair hearing there.”

    Wasn’t that the same thing she did regarding her drunk driving? I chuckle every time I fuel up my car and see the county seal sticker with her name on it. I always have the urge to put a MADD or DDAD sticker right next to it.

  2. TheObserver says:

    Ms. Major makes an astute observation. As Ms. Cooper will likely be required to eliminate jobs and services in the ACC, she will most certainly incur the wrath of the SEIU. That is something to be very afraid of.

    The union will turn on Ms. Cooper the second she let’s (or threatens to let) any of its members go. Ms. Cooper has been subtly warned by Ms. Majors (and the SEIU) here…in public.

  3. TheObserver says:

    @ the Unobserver:

    My guess is that Ms. Neville would rather tell her story to a jury than the Press-Democrat. She has a better chance of a fair hearing there. Watch the court case where all will be revealed.

  4. TheObserver says:

    @ Dogs Rule

    Animals, sadly, are the big losers in this political quagmire. That little chihuahua in the picture above with the ACC? Most likely RIP!

  5. Susan Major says:

    I am sure glad Amy is back but why was she fired? Was there jealousy, envy, resentment in the world of cats and dogs? Was the little dog too much for the big dog?

    Did Amy take two days to consider her reinstatement because she will have to fire people now and make budget cutbacks while not turning on one of her chief supporters, SEIU?

    The crown will rest uneasily on the head of the new top dog in the K-9 and cat Deparment. Wags not barks to all.

  6. Terry says:

    Thank you Rita Scardaci and WELCOME BACK AMY!!! We (the staff and volunteers at the shelter) missed you!!

  7. Dogs Rule says:

    When the reality of the animal deaths is posted on this comment thread – I get thumbs down and Amy gets thumbs up. That ought to tell you something about what’s going on in Sonoma county and where our priorities have gone off in a ditch. Cheering this announcement is like doing the wave for a re-hired leader of a death camp for innocent, healthy, homeless pets who need help not death. I’m horrified.

  8. The Domino Effect says:

    This was a great decision. I am happy the drunk was fired too. Now the drunk has plenty of time to work out and start running. That way the next time (not if) she is stopped for being drunk- she can outrun the out of shape cop!

  9. TheUnObserver says:

    @ TheObserver…why won’t Ms Neville divulge why she was fired? She is not under any obligation to remain silent.

  10. TheUnObserver says:

    I say we save the county a chunk of money and send the 1778 dogs that would be killed to the observers and Dogs Rule house to live until they can find them homes…

  11. Ricardo Sorentino says:

    RE: TheObserver – “The P-D should save most of the headline on this story and use it for when Ms. Neville also gets her old job back.”

    Keep the dream alive, no matter how wrong or off base you are. Lucky for you that you have plenty of time to come with more conspiracy theories when Ms. Neville doesn’t get her job back.

  12. Sam & Janet Evening says:

    Celebrate now, it won’t last long. Within a couple years, there will be a budget proposal to contract out all the animal control functions to non-profit shelters. If we’re contracting out mental health services for humans, those for animals can’t be far behind.

  13. bats555 says:

    Iam totally amazed and delighted, glad Amy got the job she never should have lost back. Also must state: Kudo’s for the County who actually did the right thing!

  14. TheObserver says:

    @ Dogs Rule:

    Wow, that is interesting. I’m with you…animal shelters in general are inhumane and a nightmare. I’m sure Sonoma’s is no exception.

    1,700+ healthy animals killed per year. That IS a nightmare Dogs Rule. Thank you for the revelation about the horrors animals have to endure at ACC.

  15. Torn says:

    I’m so happy Amy is coming back. Alas sad news also follows as the shelter will lose employees in these up coming budget cuts.Employess that work closely with the animals. This means not a lack of care or trying for those animals there, but a tougher job for those employees staying. So please be kind to them as they do their best to care for the animals and take care of the public needs. Unfortunately there will be consequences for all involved, but too sad to talk about now. Pray for all the innocent lives that will and are affected.

  16. bear says:

    This is politics. Politics in county government are completely controlled by the Board of Supervisors.

    This time, they’re clearly trying to duck lawsuits and legal fees.

  17. Dogs Rule says:

    SCACC has been a nightmare for 20 years now. It doesn’t matter who runs it.

    1,778 healthy animals are killed there every year. Taxpayers pay for this YEAR AFTER YEAR with the same lies, blame and shelter apologists who will tell you it’s the public’s fault.

    We’re irresponsible?

    The animals go in alive and exit in a garbage bag and then into the freezer they go then off to the landfill. No matter who is at the helm- this doesn’t change. Your tax dollars at work.

  18. TheObserver says:

    @ mockinbird:

    Protect them from what? Having to work? What exactly did they need protection from Mockingbird?

    And please don’t forget, Ms. Neville HIRED Ms. Cooper. She wouldn’t even have been there if it wasn’t for Ms. Neville. And this is where all your logic breaks down.

    And you’re right about the media (by media we mean ONE local newspaper) reporting mostly in favor of Ms. Cooper. That paper got paid a sum of money for an ad the union took out to restore the ACC director to her job. Ms. Neville took out no such ad.

  19. TheObserver says:

    @Ricardo Sorentino:

    The P-D should save most of the headline on this story and use it for when Ms. Neville also gets her old job back.

  20. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    To all of you who think Neville lost her job because of firing Amy, you are wrong. Firing Amy only brought focus on Neville herself from the media where Amy has had favorable articles printed about her. It brought focus on Neville for other problems with her job performance we are not party to.

    There is a reason the unions were involved. It wasn’t to protect Amy who was management. It was to protect the employees who were not.

  21. Ricardo Sorentino says:

    RE: TheOserver – “If two people get fired, then rehired, what kind of bumbling in government does that represent?”

    Kind of putting the cart before the horse, aren’t you,, or maybe it’s just wishful thinking on your part that Ms. Neville will get her job back.

    Just once I’d like to read one of your posts that wasn’t so negative and critical. We know that Ms. Cooper getting her job back doesn’t fit with your personal agenda, but sometimes, if you can’t say anything nice about Ms. Cooper, maybe don’t say anything at all.

  22. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    Finally some justice and common sense from county management. Welcome back Amy.

  23. Satya says:

    Welcome back Amy!!! This is such a blessing for the County of Sonoma. So many changes have been made as a result of her abrupt termination last year, and all positive. It’s a shame that Cathy Neville has to waste MORE tax dollars by filing a suit (which we all knew would happen) to try and get her job back with the county. Kudos to Amy for sitting back, waiting things out and letting the truth speak for itself in the end…

  24. Tom says:

    Two old hags that make twice the money they should get in cush government jobs, bicker, and now the taxpayers are out millions.

    Stop animal abuse , eliminate Rescues

  25. J says:

    This is wonderful news for the animals of Sonoma County. We look forward to a future of closer collaboration between the animal welfare organizations of the county and continued improvements in conditions and adoption rates at the county shelter. Welcome back Amy!

  26. TheObserver says:

    Well, wouldn’t it be so interesting if both Ms. Neville and Ms. Cooper got their old jobs back? What would be the meaning of that?

    If two people get fired, then rehired, what kind of bumbling in government does that represent? This is just more proof that Ms. Neville was fired in retaliation for her dismissal of the ACC director (a dismissal, by the way, that was fully approved of by the CAO and Supes at the time, and later taken back due to Union pressure).

    This is galling to taxpayers who must support the legal and administrative costs of all this political maneuvering. Pathetic!

  27. Ricardo Sorentino says:

    Welcome back, Amy Cooper. Hope you followed the articles and posts at the Press Democrat, and know that many people here respect you and wish you well.