Animal shelter RFP causes stir at Town Board meeting

02/16/2011 9:57 AM |

When Southold Town last week issued a request for proposals to run the town’s animal shelter in the midst of contract negotiations with the shelter’s current managers, the North Fork Animal Welfare League, rumors began to run rampant.

Nearly 100 supporters of the shelter turned out at a town board meeting Tuesday night to blast the board for its request for proposals, which board members said was issued in the interest of doing due diligence in ensuring that the management of the shelter is giving taxpayers the best value for their money.

The members of the public were spurred on by an op-ed piece published on an internet news source that implied town officials had already made a back-door deal with another entity to run the shelter, and by a letter sent to other animal service organizations soliciting proposals by a woman who has long been an opponent of the League’s presence at the shelter, ostensibly at the urging of a member of the Town Board.

Town Supervisor Scott Russell said before taking comments that “there is no intention, clandestine or otherwise, to create a kill shelter of any kind. There is no effort to create a municipal shelter of any kind. There’s no intent to end our relationship with the North Fork Animal Welfare League.”

Mr. Russell said the board had sent the League’s attorney a proposal for a new contract in mid-January, but that the League’s attorney, instead of making a counter-offer, had said they want to continue the terms of their old contract, which expires on March 31.

Members of the board said they need to change some aspects of the contract, including asking the League to pay part of the $35,000 to $40,000 annual energy costs of the shelter, to have the shelter provide the name of their animal control officer to the town and provide provisions for handling dog licenses, which as of Jan. 1 are processed by towns instead of New York State.

Currently, the town pays the League just over $197,000 per year to run the shelter. The League raises the remaining $180,00 of its annual budget through fundraising.

Michael Edelson, a member of the public from Greenport who spoke at the hearing, brought with him a copy of a letter written by  Carole Geiss of Southold, who sued the Animal Welfare League in 2002. The letter, addressed to the animal welfare group RSVP in Riverhead, asked RSVP to submit a bid to run the shelter. Ms. Geiss said in the letter that she had sent it at the urging of Town Board member Vincent Orlando.

Mr. Orlando and other members of the board said that they were shocked by the letter, and had no idea it existed until Mr. Edelson read it to them.

Mr. Orlando said that Ms. Geiss, who frequently attends town board work sessions, had approached him several months ago at a work session after a board discussion of the shelter, and said that she would give him the names of other organizations that could run the shelter.

He said that he had likely said no more than “ok” during a casual conversation at the work session, but had no idea that Ms. Geiss had taken his response as an indication that she had the town’s blessing to solicit bids for management of the shelter.

The  request for proposals was issued last Thursday, and potential bidders have until Feb. 24 to submit their proposals. Mr. Russell said that the short time frame should indicate to the shelter’s supporters that the town does not believe it will find any other agency that can do the work that the League does.

“If nothing else it shows taxpayers that there is no one else better to run the shelter,” he said. “We have to show taxpayers we’re exercising due diligence.”

Mr. Russell urged the League’s supporters to press the League to prepare a counteroffer to the town’s proposed contract, in the interest of keeping negotiations moving forward. He said that he is unable to talk to the League’s Executive Director, Gillian Wood, about the contract because only the League’s attorney, Pamela Mann of Manhattan, is authorized to speak on their behalf about contract issues.

Mr. Russell told the crowd that he would like to hold a public meeting next week to go over the town’s proposed contract line-by-line with the public. He said that he would make details of that meeting public after he receives legal advice on how to present the contract publicly without disrupting negotiations, which are typically held in closed sessions.

“I can see my attorney rolling his eyes,” he said.

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  • Southold Town Board did start out by denying any intention to create a kill shelter, denying any intention to create a municipal shelter and denying any intention to terminate the services of the North Fork Animal Welfare League. The people countered by asking why the actions of the Board are leading to exactly what the Town Board claims it does not want.

    Benja Schwartz pointed out that the timing of the request for proposals was absurdly hurried. He demanded that the RFP be withdrawn. Supervisor Russell denied that demand without any consultation with any other Town Board member.

    Many people at the meeting described in detail how North Fork Animal Welfare League has been going above and beyond the call of duty for over 40 years (just a few months shy of 30 years under contract with the Town) to serve the animals and taxpayers of Southold Town. It was noted that most Towns would love to have an organization like NFAWL to work for them.

  • Mr. Russell’s comments, as reported in this article, are inaccurate in many respects, but I comment here only on his statement that he is not able to speak with Gillian Wood Pultz about the contract. I had asked the Town Attorney to negotiate the terms of an agreement with me, not my clients, since both the League and the Town are represented by attorneys, and I am optimistic that those negotiations will be productive. I have never sought to restrict Mr. Russell’s ability to talk to League personnel, and he is entirely free to do so.

  • In case Mr. Russell misplaced Ms. Pultz’s telephone number, it is 765-1811.

  • Actually, Ms Mann, you had stated in your letter to our town attorney that you request all communication to go to you regarding the contract negotiations. I can provide a copy of your letter when we get everyone together to discuss the contract. My understanding is that your conversation with our attorney went well today. Regarding Mr Edelsons post- thank you but i know the number already. It is where my family got our dog and my kids go quite often to visit the other animals. Like I said last night, it is a two way street and my office number is 765-1889. Regards, Scott Russell

  • This whole thing makes me embarrassed to be a pet lover. Honestly, look at yourselves. I was embarrassed to be there last night. First, you send out inflammatory emails seeking to garner support, try to make it into a political battle, show up at town hall en masse, and then you completely muddy the waters with so many separate inconsistent statements that it just made me very disappointed to have shown up.
    Instead of trying to make this a public opinion fight, which you are patently trying to do, why not just let Ms. Mann and Messrs. Finnegan and Russell do their jobs, and stop the public charade. And this goes both for us, and for the town. What they say is correct, it is a public facility, and therefore they have to do some homework and find the best and least expensive group to run it. By the same token, we have to do our level best to meet the town’s requirements and needs, provided they are honest, unchanging, and fair.
    I ask that we stop this public show, at least until the lawyers have had their chance to submit a bid, and make a deal. If we have no satisfaction then, might I suggest a little Cairo comes to Southold.

  • This whole thing makes me embarrassed to be a pet lover. Honestly, look at yourselves. I was embarrassed to be there last night. First, you send out inflammatory emails seeking to garner support, try to make it into a political battle, show up at town hall en masse, and then you completely muddy the waters with so many separate inconsistent statements that it just made me very disappointed to have shown up.
    Instead of trying to make this a public opinion fight, which you are patently trying to do, why not just let Ms. Mann and Messrs. Finnegan and Russell do their jobs, and stop the public charade. And this goes both for us, and for the town. What they say is correct, it is a public facility, and therefore they have to do some homework and find the best and least expensive group to run it. By the same token, we have to do our level best to meet the town’s requirements and needs, provided they are honest, unchanging, and fair.
    I ask that we stop this public show, at least until the lawyers have had their chance to submit a bid, and make a deal. If we have no satisfaction then, might I suggest a little Cairo comes to Southold.

  • Get over it. If you do not understand the deceit being practiced by the Town Board on NFAWL, the you are sleeping at the switch.

    The Town Board failed to mention the drastic changes from the old to the proposed new contract that it tried to bully NFAWL into accepting. Those changes would be destructive of the work NFAWL has been doing for 40 years.

    If you spent 40 years building an organization and promoting humane treatment of animals, and your government treated you and your legacy like a piece of garbage. How would you react?

    What if the Town Board threatened to fire a dozen civil service employees? How do you think people would react?

  • Scott, Are you confused or just trying to save face?

    Being defensive aggravates your errors. Southold Town deserves a Supervisor who does not react defensively to every critical point.

    Forget about trying to understand legalese. Think about doing the right thing.

    Attorneys talk to their own clients and to opposing attorneys. The boilerplate in a letter from an attorney is there so that attorneys negotiating a contract do not negotiate directly with opposing parties. That would defeat the point of legal representation. Parties should always be free to talk directly to each other.

    Scott, just in case you still don’t get it. Please consider that your position that you are barred from talking to the Shelter Manager about the contract is inconsistent with your discussing the contract with the public and the press.

    Please stop worrying about yourself, we need you to represent the interests of Southold Town. It is OK for the Town Board to admit to making mistakes. Please do the necessary and get a new contract in place before the current contract expires.

    By the way, a timely new contract with NFAWL would be in conflict with the untimely Request For Proposals. The Town Board should start by withdrawing the after the last minute RFP.

  • You are such a little troll. A condescending little troll.

    Please let me know how many hours you have volunteered to NFAWL lately? It would be interesting to know.

    And by the way, the town did try to fire a dozen civil service employees. Last year. And we did see how people reacted. Your point?

  • I am a troll. I do spend too much time and money volunteering.

    Your first comment is obviously untruthful. In the first sentence you claim to be a pet lover, in the second you disassociate yourself from pet lovers.

    My point? You object to making these issues public, Why?

    And YOU call ME condescending?

  • Having a little experience in government contracting I am surprised to see that Ms. Mann and Mr. Russell believe that contact, let alone negotiating, with a potential bidder without other potential bidders present is allowed. Isn’t this discriminatory? Doesn’t this disadvantage other bidders? Is the whole process a sham?

  • Interesting that the Coram FD did not respond. Rocky Point and Yaphank FD came out and not neighboring Coram? What’s up with that?!?

  • Sorry to hear of the fire that has destroyed the historic Wellington Bar & Grill, a Middle Island landmark. Best chicken wings on Long Island. I’m glad no one was injured fighting the blaze. I hope they have insurance and I hope they rebuild SOON. Good luck to the owners and employees. Thanks for the good times and thanks for the memories…

  • They should rebuild as long as the zoning isnt changed on the property like the town did to Bens Hardware, its time to take care of lifelong business people in the neighborhood rather than headline grabbing council people

  • Fire Departments need to stop petty b.s. and think about what they are here to do, protect the community with fast efficient service. Coram FD is one mile down the road…

  • because middle island didnt call them to the fire

  • Coram can not respond if they are not called, even though the building was 50 feet outside of the district. I would pose this question at the next Middle Island BOFC meeting as to why the chiefs thought it a wise move to call depts from 20 minutes away. Glad nobody got hurt.