Sunday, June 11, 2017

Controling Deja Vu

As I mentioned in my last post, last weeks council meeting seemed like a case of Deja Vu.

Animal control is once again on the radar. The stated reason is  that Animal control can't keep straight what to call their officers in court or before a judge. I guess it can be hard to keep the less than half a dozen titles straight so they can actually show that the person that issued a citation can legally do it. We expect city employees to remember a lot and they're just asking council to make their life easier. The reality is probably something different. There is a lot of turbulence in animal control. Always has been. At the last council meeting it was mentioned that there are 6 control officers in the city government. 3 are fully qualified, 2 are in training, and 1, who didn't get qualified within the allotted time after training is doing a "work around."  Think about that for a second. In 2006, council was told that a minimum of 9 officers were needed for a city our size. Here it is 11 years later, and we only have 6 on the payroll of which only 3 have certification and we've grown enough we need 10. This is the real problem.

There are still two big problems that were the same in 2006. First off, the animal enforcement is understaffed and under performing. New laws and ordinance changes won't make much difference. They haven't in the past.  You have to have enough experienced people on board to do the job right. And you have to verify they are doing it.

Another problem is that the Animal Shelter Advisory Committee needs to be put in the game. I and other observers have noticed no real input from the advisory committee on the recent issues brought before council. The minutes of the meetings seem to focus an extraordinary amount of time on feral cat's and not much time on issues like the recent distemper outbreak. Of course it's hard to tell because only four agendas and one set of minutes are on the cities web site. The bylaws are on the website, as well as a set of goals and objectives that look to be very expensive to implement. Still, not much information is there to suggest any solutions beyond an expensive new centrally located building. It's not on the Capital Improvement Plan yet but they have it on their goals to be there by 2021. Instead of the 285,000 listed in they  CIP for the next 5 years, it seems they want to go with a multi-million bond issue right in the middle of tackling all the basic infrastructure problems the city is already paying for. And personally, I think I'd much rather have a quality affordable  shelter on the edge of town than pay the much higher price for a "centrally located" (is that downtown or out by the mall?) with poor parking that takes valuable property off the tax roles.

Today, as it was in 2006, dogs and cats out number people in this city. Less that half (probably less than a quarter) of pet owners have them licensed/registered. Few have them spayed or neutered.  Many, like me are still trying to figure out why we need to pay for both a micro-chip and a metal tag. Most pet owners have little use for Animal Control/Services. They mostly ignore the laws unless they are adopting from the animal shelter or a rescue group. I have seen nothing to indicate that breeders or multi-pet owners permits have done anything positive for the health and safety of San Angelo or the quality of life of pets and their families. The same core laws and regulations we had in 2005 are still the ones that work best when applied in the field. New laws have had little affect. The formula today is the same as it has been.

Hire enough good people. Train them well. Lead them well. Provide them with the tools they need. Connect them to the public. Don't try to make their job a revenue stream or nothing but control issues. Respect the rights and freedoms of those living in the city. Fix the problems, don't make excuses or pass the buck.. Again, get the basics right and don't worry about image or popularity. Put health and safety first and leave the frills and self promotion for later.

A bit of Deja Vu

After you’ve been blogging long enough, stories start to repeat themselves. You sit down to write and it strikes you. Last weeks City Council meeting was Deja Vu all over again

We at ConchoInfo started covering animal issues from the start of the blog. Back in 2006 there was a lot to write about because of a puppy mill in one of the better neighborhoods in the city. It was mostly just a nuisance but the local news had a field day and City Hall went in to defense mode. We blogged about it here. First that happened was All kinds of new laws were proposed, especially restrictions on the number  of animals that could be owned and couple of new license requirements such as breeder permits and multi pet owner permits. The animal control statute was revised in 2007 but no new licenses or numbers were added. The main point made during all the discussions were that there were plenty of existing laws to deal with these issues if they would just be properly enforced (brought up by Judge Gilbert), and there were not nearly enough Animal Control officers available to do the job. It was pointed out at that time by the health director that a city should normally have  one officer per 10,000 people which meant that San Angelo needed 9 officers back in 2006. They were only authorized 3, which council then upped to 5 and said let’s see how this works. Throughout this bit of drama almost nothing was said about the animal services board. You know, the councils representatives that are supposed to provide policy guidance and oversight to the animal shelter and control operations.

In 2009, another puppy mill and a worse case than the one 3 years before. More pictures on the local news and abuse was front page. We blogged about it here. This time they passed an ordinance with breeding and mult-pet restrictions. Spay and neuter, etc. etc. etc.. At this time they had never had all 5 of the control officer positions filled. Looking at the quality of enforcement, not sure that would have really made a difference but the truth is that in a city our size 5 officers weren't going to be able to handle the job. And the Animal services board was still mostly missing in action. They did manage to get some very committed people on the commission for a while but little progress was made. I attended a few ASB meetings and they had some good recommendations but many of them never made it to the city council. Those few that did get before council were often not even close to what the board recommended.

It was during this time that city council and staff started looking at why, when, and how to use the numerous boards & commissions in the city. Animal Service board was rename and give a new ordinance and bylaws as the Animal Shelter Advisory committee and staff congratulated themselves on solving that problem.

Some things have changed in the last 11 years and there really has been some progress but last weeks council meeting seemed like a kind of mashed up replay from 8 to 12 years ago. As I will make clearer in my next post, things have changed but far too many are still stuck over a decade ago. Like I said, Deja Vu all over again.