Antioch Council approves on split vote hiring Animal Services Manager using funds from ARF for first year

Returns two police management staff back to full-time police work

By Allen Payton

At their August 8 meeting, amid some organized opposition and cat calls from the audience, the Antioch City Council voted 4-1 to approve the hiring of a new, full-time Animal Services Manager for the Antioch shelter using funds from Tony LaRussa’s Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF) for the first year. Mayor Pro Tem Lamar Thorpe was the only council member to vote no.

Police Chief Tammany Brooks provided background on the need for the position.

The Animal Shelter Manager will be “equivalent of a captain. He or she will answer directly to me….and will be well versed in animal operations,” he said. “This person will be a full-time manager of the animal shelter.”

“Currently we have an animal shelter supervisor…who has taken on the tasks of multiple people,” Brooks explained. “But, I believe we need management oversight above the supervisor…from a long-term standpoint, to bring stability and structure to the animal shelter.”

“Accept the funding from ARF through Maddie’s Fund for one year,” he recommended to the council. “The position will be filled right around January. That will leave $80,000 to $90,000 for the city to come up with for the 2018-19 fiscal year.”

Thorpe asked, “when we accept these types of gifts there are there stipulations? Can we only use it for a management position?”

“One of the recommendations of the Grand Jury report is that we hire an executive director,” Brooks responded. “I will take out the police oversight which will take out about $75,000.”

“This money is earmarked specifically for an animal shelter manager,” he added.

In response to a question by Councilwoman Lori Ogorchock, Brooks said the surgery suite will be open at the end of September, of this year.

Before the council took their vote, members of the public spoke, most in opposition to the chief’s recommendation, due to their concerns with ARF.

Long-time Antioch animal advocate, Barbara Sobalvarro said, “it is hard to wrap my arms around. When we formed 38 years ago, Friends of Animal Services would have loved what you’re doing, tonight.”

“If we have a possibility of working with people who are giving their time to volunteer their time to the animals…and have the kind of shelter all of us would love…and have it for less money…I’m asking you to not rush this,” she explained.

“This is about ARF. This is their second partnership with Antioch,” Sobalvarro stated. “The first time they left nine months after they started. This is the second manager position we will have. Please, this has been too sudden…something that seems too be good to be true probably is. All that glitters is not gold. But the hearts of our volunteers are golden.”

Thorpe then asked, “if we accept their funds, are we then on the line to fund this position, moving forward?”

Brooks responded, “ARF…will fund this position for 12 months. $75,000 of…what is currently being spent in the Antioch Animal Services will go toward that position. So the city will be on the line for between $71,000 and $103,000 after the funds are realized. “So, I’m curious,” Thorpe said, “How will that impact the budget? Is that something we anticipated?”

“The amount of funding you’re talking about would take you into the 2020 budget,” City Manager Ron Bernal explained.

“OK. Thank you,” said Thorpe. “So, we would budget for that budget cycle.”

Tiscareno was next to comment stating, “I appreciate everyone’s beliefs. But, we do have to make a decision for the future of the shelter. We do utilitize two police officer positions.”

“A lieutenant and a captain,” Brooks interjected.

“That oversee this position, that can do the work of the police,” Tiscareno continued. “That encourages me at this point. I want to see the police department do what they’re supposed to do. That’s what we’ve heard criticism of over the years. We can have a full function operation. I understand where the volunteers are coming from. But I believe we need to bring this into a business type atmosphere.”

“I’m going to speak in favor of this resolution,” he concluded.

Ogorchock asked, “is there going to be any saving?”

“Yes,” Brooks responded. “So, we have to contract out…for spay and neuter. When we have our own DVM (veterinarian) in place…that will save money. And we can contract out the service to others in…East County and generating a little revenue to the city, and reducing the animal population.”

“I appreciate the passion on both sides. This is going to be a working manager. Not just someone sitting behind a desk.

Brooks then offered additional explanation.

“If you were going to look at similar animal shelters in other cities…two cities that would be somewhat comparable is Berkeley and Hayward. Both of them have a manager,” he said. ‘You’re talking about a $1 million a year company and we don’t have a manager. We need someone who is well versed in animal operations.”

Ogorchock responded by saying, “I want to see more people in there working with the animals. There could be the savings where it could be no cost to the budget.”

“We’re kind of missing the policy and procedure piece, and someone to oversee the budget, how much we’re spending here…here’s a policy we’re missing here, or a procedural piece,” said Councilwoman Monica Wilson. “Is that the case with this person?”

Brooks responded with, “These are things an animal services manager will be doing instead of me.”

Thorpe said, “I don’t think I’ve ever met Monika (Helgemo, the animal services supervisor).” He asked how this would impact her position.

Brooks explained that she is a supervisor who was given the management responsibilities when the manager left.

“That’s when we brought in the oversight of the police department,” he stated. “This will free up Monika to do things our volunteers are talking about. So, this position assumes some of the responsibility that the police officers were.”

Mayor Sean Wright concluded the council discussion by stating, “six months is a long time. Six months ago is when we looked at the opportunity to work together. I’m excited to hear. I took a tour of the animal shelter a couple months ago. I think you’ve answered all of our questions, tonight.”

As Tiscareno read his motion, members of the public made cat-calls from the audience. Ogorchock seconded the motion and it passed 4-1. As Wright read the results of the vote, a woman yelled “Thank you, Thorpe.”

More Debate After The Council Meeting

Following the meeting, a discussion outside of the council chambers ensued between shelter volunteers and Mayor Wright.

“A new manager is not the answer,” said one woman who chose to not be identified. “We need more players not another coach. We need people in there actually who will love the animals and be kind to them.”

The no-kill rate has gone from 76% to 98% in recent months, one woman shared.

“Antioch is the first no-kill shelter in Contra Costa County,” another woman stated.

“All they’re going to do is kill more animals,” said yet another unidentified volunteer. “In four days. ARF has what is called a pathway. It takes time. An animal only goes up for adoption for 14 days then they kill them.”

“They don’t have the staffing,” was one volunteer’s complaint. “ARF is not providing a vet or a registered vet tech regularly since beginning of May.”

One suggestion made by a volunteer unhappy with the council’s decision was that “Petaluma is willing to take over our shelter.”

Wright responded to the four women, saying “This position has not been hired We can change our mind. I’ll talk to Petaluma.”

“It can’t run without volunteers,” said one of the women. “They’re ready to walk.”

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