BISBEE — “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” wrote Barbara Joe Cayer in a letter to the Bisbee mayor and council, and it was the main gist of those Bisbee citizens opposed to the Request For Proposals for a contractor to run the Bisbee Animal Shelter posted Oct. 13 by City Manager Theresa Coleman.
Friends of the Bisbee Animal Shelter, a nonprofit, has run the Bisbee animal shelter operations since 2017 and have successfully placed cats and dogs in loving homes. Staff and volunteers have cared for those hard-to-adopt older critters, who sometimes end up with extended stays until someone finally looks them in the eye and says, “You’re coming home with me.” Foster “parents” step up to care for kittens and puppies and those will illnesses.
Feral cat problems in a few areas of the city have been brought under control through the trap/neuter/release program. Residents have been able to take advantage of reduced-cost spay/neuter/vaccination clinics. A dog park was opened for a play area where pets and owners could safely congregate. All these services were provided for through donations, volunteers and foundations.
FBAS has earned strong support from the Bisbee community and the city provided up to $80,000 this year for the nonprofit to care for the strays and surrendered pets that number in the hundreds annually.
The only hitch is the city should have put the contract to supervise animal care out to bid in accordance with state law, the City Charter and City the Code as it was in excess of $5,000.
To rectify the error, which FBAS members understand, Coleman posted the RFP. However, she did so without consulting the FBAS or the animal–friendly community. They took issue with way it was worded and in true Bisbee style their responses to it run from upset to livid.
Twenty–two letters of concerns were submitted to City Clerk Ashlee Coronado which the writers expected to be read at a work session held Oct. 19 as was stated on the public notice for the meeting.
However, public comments generally are not permitted in work sessions. Coronado said she forgot to adjust the work session notice and remove the public comment statement. The citizen comments were not heard, causing some, like Kathy Sowden, FBAS board member, to question if the denial of comments was in violation of open meeting law.
“I think it’s illegal,” she said in an interview. “I don’t think they can do that when it says clearly on the agenda public comments will be heard.”
The Herald/Review obtained the letters from Coronado through an email request to learn of the community concerns about the RFP and FBAS. What was clear was that some residents were acutely concerned about the care and health of shelter animals and deeply inspired by the advances made in animal care due to FBAS involvement and management.
Juliet Beaumont wrote, “I am deeply and fundamentally angered and confused by what is happening here, and the potential impact on our shelter. There has been absolutely no transparency on the part of the city to make the FBAS aware of the reasons why they feel the need to change the existing relationship.”
Brad Hardy requested the RFP be “thrown out. Thousands of us have donated and believed in the good of FBAS. Allow us to have a say in its future.”
That request mirrored Vicky Barth’s words: “I implore you to discard this RFP and conduct a public forum on the issue of animal services for the city.”
Laurie McKenna wrote, “When I saw the RFP for the management of the animal shelter, it blew my top. The details in it were not in line with the services provided and most importantly, it was done without any consultation with the nonprofit partner, FBAS. It is an insult to all of us who support this nonprofit and the animals — every adopter, every foster, every foundation that believes in their work.”
Sowden said she and Kelly Galligan, FBAS board member, are working on the non-profit’s proposal to the city.
RFP wording concernsOne of the main concerns is the RFP statement: “The City desires to retain animal control and work with a contract partner to provide 72 hours to 124 hours of care for animals received into custody by Law Enforcement, fire personnel or the Animal Control Officer.”
The hours convert to three to five days, says Rachel Dennis, who works at the shelter. She wanted to know what will happen to the animals after their time is up — will they go to another shelter?
She asked, “Has the city reached out to local rescues to be sure they are willing to take on this huge influx of animals? It is a backwards regressive plan that will lead to more dumped and stray animals and overpopulation. It doesn’t fit the needs of the community. Is this something the city wants to be known for?”
FBAS and shelter supporters also are concerned the time limit would turn the non-kill shelter into a kill shelter, a change that is heartily opposed.
Their concerns include the RFP the statement: “Between the period of August 2019 and August 2020, the animal control officer and law enforcement received 32 feral cats, 15 stray cats and 18 stray dogs into custody.”
If taken as written, it would limit the intake of animals to just 12.6 percent of animals taken in at the shelter, said Sowden in an interview. “No mention is made of the other 87.4 percent brought in by community members.”
According to the intake report for September 2020, 54 animals, mostly stray cats, were brought to the shelter, but only one was brought in by the Bisbee Police Department (BPD). One dog was brought in by the Cochise County Animal Control Officer, but as Sowden pointed out, animals brought in by other law enforcement agencies picked up the animals in the city.
In a review of FBAS reports from April 2020 through August 2020, BPD turned in six animals, the Bisbee animal control officer two and the Department of Public Safety one, totaling nine out of the 318 animals turned in to the Bisbee shelter.
Residents and FBAS are concerned those animals surrendered by their owners or strays and trapped feral cats turned into the shelter will not be provided care, added Sowden.
Another statement in the RFP notes: “Provide appropriate facilities, as referenced in the City Code…”
This led to residents and FBAS to believe the existing shelter would not be used and a new facility would have to be built.
During the work session, Smith emphasized the shelter could be used and encouraged FBAS to respond to the RFP.
Communication and inclusionFor the past five months, FBAS board members and shelter workers have asked to meet with Coleman about the contract, and most recently the RFP, Sowden said in an interview. She has not responded to their requests.
Dennis stated in her letter, “I also feel it should be addressed that Theresa Coleman has never been to the animal shelter, and I have never met her. Mayor Smith has not visited the shelter the entire time I worked here. Things at the shelter are going well, and with all the other challenges the city is facing — why this focus and why now? Shelter staff has felt blow after blow by city leadership.”
Janet Gray asked the mayor and council to wait on any decision until the new mayor and re-elected council members are installed in December.
Gretchen Baer stated, “Please give the FBAS all the support and encouragement you can. Let them continue their commitment to care for Bisbee’s animal population who so desperately need their help.”
Emily Roux wrote, “Because the animal shelter is a community asset, one that many of us have built up slowly and painstakingly slowly over many years through volunteering, adopting, fostering, transporting and donating time, money and goods, it is vital that we the people have a say in what happens to it. We are proud of what we created, and we will not let it be euthanized.”