Scrutiny for new Petaluma animal service operator

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City officials are satisfied with Petaluma’s new animal services operator halfway through the first year of its contract.

Members of the Petaluma Animal Services Committee expressed confidence in North Bay Animal Services at a midyear check in last week, even as supporters of the city’s former animal services provider raised questions about the new operator’s accounting practices.

Petaluma Animal Services Foundation held the city contract from 2012 until last August, when NBAS took over after winning the contract in a competitive process.

The city was prompted to seek other bids when several PASF employees accused the executive director, Jeff Charter, of creating a hostile work environment and misappropriating funds. An internal investigation found no criminal wrongdoing.

Mark Scott, a former PASF animal control officer who called for Charter’s ouster, became executive director of NBAS. He said that the new organization has ramped up outreach efforts, holding more community events to attract volunteers or find adopted homes for animals. The organization also runs the Petaluma Animal Shelter.

“We’ve had a lot of support from volunteers coming back,” he said. “We’ve held way more events than before. The first six months have gone really well.”

NBAS took 646 animals into the shelter during the reporting period, a decrease of 55 animals from PASF’s midyear total last year. There were 264 animals adopted, a decrease of 93 animals from the 357 that were adopted from PASF a year ago.

The live release rate for the period was 97%, down slightly compared to PASF’s live release rate of 98.3% a year ago.

“I’m very pleased,” City Manager Peggy Flynn said. “I think they have hit the ground running, and I think they’re really teeing up to be a successful operation. They’re very community-based. And I look forward to working with them to ensure they’re successful.”

Critics said they were concerned that the adoption rate was lower than the previous period last year. Saill White, a board member of PASF, which still operates as a nonprofit advocacy group, said she had several concerns, including that NBAS has not reached full staffing levels. She pointed out that NBAS billed the city identical $36,017 invoices every month, event when actual expenses most likely varied.

“All of that is odd, the numbers don’t feel right,” she said. “I have real concerns and I don’t think it’s going to get better.”

Scott said the organization follows the city’s preferred accounting practices. He said that they have so far not hired an animal shelter manager because they haven’t needed one yet.

“We took our time to go slowly and do this the right way,” he said. “A shelter manager hasn’t been necessary in the first six months.”

NBAS reported a net income of $334,796 for the period, and expenses were $322,513.

The organization also recently won the contract to provide animal services to Cloverdale, Scott said.

City Councilman Gabe Kearney, who sits on the Animal Services Committee, said NBAS has done a fine job in the first six months. He said he is happy with their community engagement, and any problems they may have had so far are due to the initial ramp-up phase.

“Anytime a nonprofit goes from nonexistent to running things, it’s not always going to be perfect,” he said. “As a city, we’re pleased with the service they are providing. I feel confident in the choice that we made.”

Committee member Caitlin Quinn said the panel will be meeting quarterly going forward instead of biannually to talk about any issues that may come up with the new operator. She said the concerns from the critics are valid, but overall the new operator is doing a good job.

“Everything I’ve seen looks good,” she said. “I’ve seen them in the community a lot more than the old organization. It feels more energetic in a good way. It will be interesting to see if they can keep the momentum.”

(Yousef Baig contributed to this report. Contact Matt Brown at matt.brown@arguscourier.com.)

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