In February 2009 the city of Independence and Jackson County signed a formal agreement that the county would build a new animal shelter on city-owned land and that the city would operate the new shelter. In May 2012 the city established the annual city budget that provided for the funding to operate the new shelter. In the late summer of 2012 the city started spending funds for the new shelter such as getting some security alarms – items up to $50,000 in value. Until the fall, the city appeared to be headed toward operating the new shelter as established in the 2009 contract.
In early December that all turned around, and now the city appears likely to subcontract the operation of the animal shelter back to the county, which has already got an agreement with the very same Kansas-based animal rescue group that the city had rejected.
The city has been pressed, in fact intimidated, by one single county legislator for months to hire one very specific animal rescue group, based in Kansas, the only group to submit a bid. The city did not hire the group. The city auditor in a report in May 2012 pointed out that the bid was $600,000 a year more than having the city operate the animal shelter.
The new shelter should be much more efficient to clean and operate due to its modern design and that the vast majority of the animals will be from Independence not from the unincorporated parts of the county.
The city has successfully operated a “no-kill” shelter with a staff, which is caring, competent and soon unemployed.
The county was clearly not happy and in September 2012 did its own bid process to hire a shelter operator, even though the February 2009 contract between the city and the county was still valid. The county got one bid, from the only animal rescue group that has ever been in this discussion.
While the City Council and city manager have significantly improved the new contract proposed in December 2012, they did not demand that the city staff be offered jobs or assuring that residents can drop off animals at the new shelter. The convoluted new contract leaves the old contract from February 2009 intact and establishes that the city will now subcontract back to the county for the county to operate the shelter through a sub-subcontract with the Kansas rescue group. In mid-December the website of the animal rescue group posted that the decision was already made and it was were going to operate the new shelter, despite the fact the City Council had not yet approved the deal.
Through several council meetings, not one elected official has explained why this new contract is a good deal for the citizens of Independence. If it was a great deal, wouldn’t some politician want to take credit for it?
Page 2 of 2 - Listen closely for some explanation on how the new company is going to spend $800,000 a year more on operating the shelter than what the city had planned and an explanation of where it is going to get the extra money each year? What happens if it operates the animal shelter and runs short on donations? Who is going to bail it out?
If having the Kansas group running the shelter is a great idea, why didn’t the city accept its bid in the first place? Why are we looking at a convoluted sub-subcontract so the city will still be responsible to operate the shelter but we will subcontract the operation back to the county for five years so the county can sub-subcontract the operations back to the Kansas group? Why doesn’t the city just contract directly with the rescue group if that is the best option?
If you would like my answer, it is because some of our council have been worn down by the continual pressure, some have been subject to a steady stream of e-mails and calls from those closely associated with the animal rescue group, some are sick and tired of the issue and ready to vote regardless, and there is the intimidation created by the threats of some volunteers to leave unless the Kansas group is hired. Others are scared of petty retaliation if they don’t keep the county happy.
Not the finest moment of our city government.
Jason White is a former Independence City Council member.