Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Dirty Politics of Animal Shelter Wars - Nobody Wins

Kent County Dog Control Contract

Back on June 4, the Kent County Levy Court chose to retain Safe Haven Animal Sanctuary as provider of dog control services for our county.
"Speaking during the public comments period of the June 4 Levy Court committee session, members of the public and the KCSPCA board of directors had expressed doubts about the quality of service Safe Haven could provide.
Although headquartered in Georgetown, where the no-kill Safe Haven has room for 100 dogs, the business has contracts with private kennels in Kent and Sussex counties for another 65 animals. Safe Haven officials have said they also plan to open satellite office in the Dover area." - Milford Beacon
Most of us believed that Safe Haven would win the bid no matter what Kent County SPCA bid.   But it was amusing to watch the whole discussion about the county attorney giving the Levy Court Commission his blessing to throw the Kent County SPCA bid out because they included a tiered pricing structure instead of a lump sum fixed fee, rather than negotiate with both bidders as Sussex County had done 6 months earlier.  Sussex County negotiated by going back to Safe Haven and Kent County SPCA and requested a lower cost option. That strategy worked to get Sussex County a lower priced bid than Kent County, and despite the fact the Kent County Request For Proposal allowed negotiations, the commissioners in Kent County decided to just toss out one of the bids.  Kent County Levy Court Commissioner's absolutist approach wasn't in the best interest of their county constituents, and the commissioners using their attorney as their excuse to dump Kent County SPCA's bid out of the running was not only cowardly, but it resulted in Kent County paying $200,000 more than Sussex County.  But of course they will proclaim they saved us tons of money, even though they will never know what price could have been negotiated.

Commissioner Jody Sweeney

Many of us have believed that Commissioner Jody Sweeney has been on a a personal campaign to harm the Kent County SPCA long before last years budget impasse.  Whether it's a personal vendetta because he resents the state placing this burden onto the counties, whether it came about due to a friend being cited by the shelter, or whatever reason he chooses to put forward, it seems to me that our county seems to suffer from the same lack of integrity and ethical behavior that our state government does. The fact that he made the following statement about KCSPCA in 2011 makes it fairly clear that the war of words began long before last years contract issue.
Levy Court decided not to give any grant money to the Kent County SPCA, which received $2,250 last year.
Commissioner Jody Sweeney said since the county now pays the KSPCA some $800,000 a year for animal control services —a contractual number that is slated to increase for next year — an additional grant is not necessary.
“The fees are up this year,” he said. “I like the SPCA, but not if they keep raking us over the coals.” - Dover Post 2/8/11
For those that don't recall, 2010/11 was the first year that the county had to pay 100 percent of the dog control services for the county, so the increase in cost was not dictated by the Kent County SPCA, but by the shifting of cost from the state to the county.  Ironically, Kent County residents have paid Safe Haven more than the $800,000 this past year.  This is the same amount that Mr. Sweeney previously had found so objectionable when paid to the KCSPCA, and the Safe Haven contract included less services than when the Kent County SPCA had the contract.
  1. After a full year, Safe Haven was still not DELJIS certified to generate citations. 
  2. For a full year, Safe Haven and the Kent County Levy Court have continued to try and absolve themselves from handling and enforcing Title 9 Humane Care standards, and worse yet trying to shift that burden onto the Kent County SPCA by claiming that every breach in care standards amounts to animal cruelty, when we know that there is little chance that the Attorney General is going to pursue a cruelty case until it reaches a fairly high bar.  
  3. Safe Haven only picked up a fraction of the dogs that Kent County SPCA previously did, so obviously Safe Haven is not as concerned about the welfare of dogs that are in danger on the streets, with a great potential to be harmed, crippled, or killed. 
  4. A number of residents have also complained about issues reaching Safe Haven by phone or getting a response to complaints.  
  5. Safe Haven still doesn't have a veterinarian on staff.  
  6. The previous RFP that Kent County SPCA worked under required 3 vehicle patrolling versus now only requiring 2 of Safe Haven.
  7. And lastly, dogs are still leaving Safe Haven without being spayed/neutered despite the fact that they are required to under state law.
After some of us had a discussion on a Facebook page about the fact that Kent County Commissioners had thrown out the Kent County SPCA, I received a Facebook personal message from Mr. Sweeney.  He apparently felt he needed to educate me.
June 12  7:36am
Jody Sweeney

"Mr. Carter, check your records. The SC Council approved the contract with the provision that the loss of NC County Contract raises their costs by 25%. They ACCEPTED this where Kent would not. Bully for them, they are swimming in money. They negtiated the hours of active dog control for the SPCA, not SH to give them the contract. This is not appropriate in a sealed bid process. When NCC bails because of the audit, the total 3yr costs increase to $2.9million, more than SH."
This was my response to his error laden education.
June 13 2:18am
J Jacob Carter

It appears to me that Sussex did negotiate with both providers, unlike our own county.
"After negotiating - reduced scope of service - Safe Haven $927,000.00 & Kent County $669,230.00" - Sussex County Minutes
Personally I think it's a good thing KCSPCA didn't get the Kent contract because I don't think they could ever recoup the cost of the never ending drama here from your buds and pulling the same records 5 or 6 times.
I can't say what will happen in NCC with the political connections there, but I'm looking forward to watching it. As far as I know, Wilmington is still up the air because Del SPCA doesn't want to handle per the city budget report, so it will be informative to see what it will cost for NCC county and Wilmington city wages and benefits if they end up handling dog control up there. The interesting part is Kent County is now paying one of the highest rates in the country on a per dog basis. If SH stays on their current level of picking up dogs, they will end the year around 800 dogs which puts them at over $1,000 per dog. That's almost double what even NK communities Austin and Reno are paying, and those communities even spay/neuter the animals before adopting them out.
So again, I'm glad that KCSPCA at least bid on behalf of the county residents, or we could have ended up at an even higher per dog rate. Hopefully it won't eventually cost taxpayers even more as we see more bite cases as that woman Ms Landon described on the KCSPCA FB" page.
Unlike other pages that try to make a major conspiracy out of someone personal messaging them, I don't have an issue with him contacting me in this manner.  We've had numerous conversations in the past on the Newszap messageboard.

Whereas, I did find the following snarky message Mr. Sweeney made to another constituent extremely unprofessional.  How in the world does someone jump to the conclusion that a person doesn't love dogs because the public is concerned for their own safety and the safety of their pets?
Jody Sweeney
7:42am Jun 12 

Never talked out of both sides of my mouth, I have always stayed true to protecting the lives of dogs who don't deserve to die. You must not love dogs. Funny how you think I run Levy Court, yet an attorney, a panel of County employees, and all 7 Commissioners came to the same conclusion. SH was the best shelter for Dog Control. Read the NCC Audit. I have a copy for you. Even after all your comments, I still got reelected. Hmmm
And more recently, a screenshot of a recent conversation between Commissioner Sweeney and Sussex County Councilwoman Joan Deaver.  

When I saw the screenshot provided, I thought it was pretty tacky that Commissioner Sweeney was stirring the pot in Sussex County to try and get Sussex to have regrets about their contract with Kent County SPCA, and to have them consider contracting Safe Haven at the end of the year.  Even if we ignore the fact that the Sussex County County Minutes don't make any reference to the negotiated amount Sussex pays being linked to the New Castle County contract despite what Mr. Sweeney claims, the fact is there's absolutely no reason for this kind of behavior.  I would think Mr. Sweeney would have enough in Kent County to keep him busy, but he somehow thinks he should influence other counties operating decisions.

Isn't it great knowing that a Kent County Levy Court Commissioner is out there trying to make a county official in another county reluctant to deal with a Kent County non-profit business?  I wonder how many of the Kent County SPCA employees pay his paycheck through their property taxes, with jobs that his games have the potential to jeopardize. But keep in mind that Commissioner Sweeney came into the job under questionable circumstances.  Apparently Kent County Levy Court doesn't have any ethics standards to allow this kind of behavior to take place. 

But it was funny to see that he appears to be just as condescending to fellow politicians in both his PM to me about Sussex County, where he appears to imply that Sussex County somehow negotiated a more costly contract then Kent.  And then with his caps on the word NEVER to Ms. Deaver to imply that Kent County Levy Court has an administrator that can't make decisions without answering to our commissioners, and that in Sussex the council doesn't have final approval.  Sussex isn't in the process of renewing their contract, so I can't see why the administrator would be seeking approval from the council, and the contract doesn't appear to be tied to New Castle County as Mr. Sweeney seems to think anyway.   

Safe Haven - One Week After The Kent County Levy Court Final Approval

Given the news that came out today - Safe Haven could close its doors, No-kill shelter must raise $200,000 by end of month, I now have to wonder whether Mr. Sweeney knew of the dire financial situation at Safe Haven, and whether his conversation with Councilwoman Joan Deaver was an attempt to get Safe Haven more income from a Sussex contract so the Kent County Levy Court could save face.
"Safe Haven Animal Sanctuary is running out of money.
The no-kill shelter is operating on a tight budget, but it will run out of money at the end of the month, say shelter officials.
Officials say they underestimated the number of abandoned animals and the difficulty of getting them adopted. New board member Rich Garrett said the shelter may have to close its doors if it cannot raise $200,000.
"We are paying a lot to kennels for dogs that we don't have space for at the shelter," Garrett said. "We are up against a big challenge to keep the doors open and the lights on."
Board member Rick Kirchhoff said the shelter was not prepared for the influx of animals and the associated costs." - Cape Gazette, Rachel Swick Mavity - 6/21/13
While the timing of Safe Haven's news was surprising, the situation itself wasn't.  Anyone who has read this blog knows that I tend to focus on the fact that No-Kill has been unsustainable financially in larger communities.  Austin with it's millions of dollars in increasing budget requests, and Washoe/Reno where Nevada Humane has taken on $4.1 million in losses, are proof of that. 

Hopefully this has been a wake up call for some in our community that make claims that shelters like the Kent County SPCA choose to euthanize animals, or the even more ridiculous claims that anyone enjoys having to euthanize an animal. Safe Haven has only taken in a fraction of the animals that KCPSCA did under the Kent County contract, and the financial impact is evident.

While Safe Haven made the choice to go down No-Kill's financial road to disaster, the No-Kill CAPA law that our state passed in 2010 has attempted to place this same financial burden on the Kent County SPCA. Shouldn't legislators be trying to raise the financial standing of our shelters, instead of trying to lower it for the shelters that were fiscally sound?  The reason Kent County SPCA has been around for 50 years, as opposed to the 12 mos that Safe Haven has been in operation, is because they've had to make tough choices to make sure they are still around to help animals - 1 year from now, 10 years from now, and 50 years from now.  The concern that I've had since CAPA went into affect is that the state has sent our shelters down an abyss to financial ruin.  This is the very reason some of us are so against No-Kill.  We're not willing to sacrifice the survival of our shelters because we want them to be here for the animals in the future.

It's clear that neither the counties or the state are going to throw out millions of dollar of additional funds like Austin, and I would hope that our legislators can see that extended periods of financial losses that Nevada Humane has incurred will not benefit the animals if it places shelters in financial jeopardy.

All the issues, drama, and financial harm of No-Kill and CAPA puts shelter's financial well being millions in the hole.

This brings to mind a couple of comments made on the Kent County SPCA FB page by a friend who works for a shelter in New Hampshire.
"All the bargain basement sales and funding in the world can't create good homes, and therein lies the problem... Spay/neuter, spay/neuter, spay/neuter, repeat. We've got to slow down the supply, it's the only way.
It's a pretty good way to live and rescue.  Once you don't have to worry about being buried alive in animals, you can really have some fun. Since I just love this group, and their message and this documentary, especially, so much, I'll share it yet again. "
So ultimately the question becomes, why is the state going to spend $500,000 to continue to feed the current divisive environment and exacerbate shelter financial losses by creating an Animal Welfare Office who's primary purpose is to enforce CAPA, when the sound solution is as simple as doing what New Hampshire did to lower euthanasia, which as noted above was "Spay/neuter, spay/neuter, spay/neuter, repeat."?

Wouldn't $500,000 be better spent on spay/neuter and helping to fund cruelty enforcement?  Are our legislators and governor opposed to shelter workers having a bright and cheery outlook like in New Hampshire, and the additional support the community would provide if this nasty divisive atmosphere under the Nathan Winograd CAPA went away?

New Hampshire was able to sustain their program since the early 90's, and for about a tenth of the cost that communities like Austin have incurred.   It makes sense to me from a financial perspective, and the enthusiasm certainly sounds like a refreshing change.

Nobody has won in the animal shelter wars created by No-Kill and CAPA.  In fact, everyone has lost.  The politicians who look ridiculous, the shelters losing money, everyone trying to help animals who are hindered by even less resources because of resources being wasted on never ending investigations.  And the animals now being left on the streets have lost the most, since the resources spent on the games, politics and investigations have been taken away from helping animals.