Antioch City Council Agrees to Hire Animal Services Manager

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On Tuesday night, the Antioch City Council agreed to hire an Animal Services Manager in a 4-1 vote.

With Mayor Pro Tem Lamar Thorpe dissenting, the rest of the council approved accepting funding from Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF) through the financial support of Maddies Fund which will pay for an Animal Services Manager for a period of one year  at a salary range of $97k to $119k.

According to the Staff Report, since this position will be funded for twelve months from Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF), through the financial support of Maddie’s Fund, there is no current cost to the General Fund for FY2017/18. There will be a cost to the General Fund when funding from ARF through Maddie’s Fund ends in FY2018/19.

The Animal Services Manager position is estimated to be filled by January 2018, with reimbursement for the position funded at top step for twelve months, the position would be fully funded at least through December 2018.

The maximum estimated cost to the General Fund for the remaining ten months for FY2018/19 is $89,334.

The reason for the move was because Antioch Animal Services does not have a shelter manager.  Instead, the current operating chain of command consists of an AAS Supervisor who reports to an Antioch Police Lieutenant, who reports to an Antioch Police Captain, who in turn reports to the Chief of Police.

Chief Tammany Brooks explained one of the main concerns in studies done on the Antioch Animal Shelter was lack of staffing and overcrowding while one of the criticisms had to do with the fact that with the Animal Shelter oversight coming from the police department, the oversight came from a lieutenant and a captain.

“Right now, the Animal Shelter pays 1/10 of a lieutenant salary and 1/10 of a captain’s salary and that is the oversight with the animal shelter.  The complaint was on one hand police administration was not well versed in animal sheltering operations, current laws and were not in the animal shelter long enough to become well versed in those items and so there was a kind of an inadequate management of the animal shelter,” said Brooks.

Brooks highlighted that because of promotions, retirements, assignments, the management routinely shifted from one person to the next which never allowed one person to get fully up to speed.

Brooks said under this recommendation, this person would be the equivalent of a “police captain” and would report directly to him. They would also be someone who is well versed in animal services work.

During public comments Jeffrey Klingler said the recommendations tonight were spot on.

“This was aligned with grand jury findings released this year, it liberates police resources but most importantly it is the only way to preserve and build on the hard one gains that have been made this year at the Animal Shelter,” said Klingler. “With ARF’s help and a lot of money by many people, deficiencies that long languished at the shelter are being corrected. The only way to sustain and build on these gains is to have a qualified, experienced shelter manager…. If you say no tonight, we lose that opportunity.”

Klingler added this was not about adding more bureaucracy, but rather adding leadership.

Karen Kops, president of H.A.R.P., stated she supported the recommendation tonight but also hoped the Council will address the full Contra Costa Grand Jury report in an upcoming council meeting—specifically the recommendation a formal community based animal advisory group to help monitor and provide reports of the animal shelter.

Lou Lewis, a volunteer with the animal shelter, said she was a volunteer before ARF came in and while ARF is there, explained that a new manager is not the solution to the issues facing the Antioch Animal Shelter.

“We need more players, less coaches,” said Lewis. “If you have a manager come in who is with the no-kill mentality which we have maintained, and you expect them to take 5-people when we need 11-people. It doesn’t matter if you have a paper pusher, we need people in there actually loving, handling and being kind to the animals. You have a great coach in Monika (Helgemo) who doesn’t have the number of players she needs to properly play the game.”

Lewis asked the council not to make a decision tonight on hiring a manager.

Sofi Roman asked the council to postpone this vote for 60-days to look into additional options.

Vince Augusta called it redundant and fiscally irresponsible to fund a new management position when the current supervisor has been the acting manager for years and has with minimal resources has been successfully fulfilling the duties and job description and one-third the cost.

He also highlighted how ARF has not fulfilled requirements on their two previous agreements with the city.

“We implore the city council to delay their vote on this proposal and investigate the shortcomings on the initial proposal that were made by ARF,” said Augusta. “It’s time to sit down and speak with the folks who were directly at no cost to the city before agreeing to spend funds that would provide basic lawfully required care to the animals in your charge. Perhaps at a later date a manager would be feasible. At this time, we need to fund working staff to meet basic mandated needs of animal care.”

During Council discussion, Mayor Pro Tem Lamar Thorpe asked if they accepted their contribution if they were required to fund this position in the future.

Chief Brooks stated ARF, through Maddie’s Fund, would fund the position for 12-months. After that, it does fall on the city.

Councilman Tony Tiscareno thanked everyone for sharing their opinions and wanted to support the animal shelter and its operation.

“I want to make sure when we make this decision, we are doing it to improve the shelter,” said Tiscareno. “I understand where the volunteers are coming from, but I believe we need to bring this more into a business atmosphere and do this right. I am going to speak in favor of this resolution.”

Councilwoman Lori Orgorchock stated she appreciated the passion on both sides.

“People have asked for an extra person, to me this is going to be a working manager, not someone who is going to be sitting.  Is this someone who is going to be sitting behind a desk or are they going to be working with animals also?” asked Ogorchock.

Chief Brooks explained he couldn’t see it any other way.

“In a City like Antioch, there really is no alternative. All departments in the city work on a shoe string budget and I am extremely proud of the work that is done in all departments because we do more with less than many other cities and this will be an extension of that,” said Brooks.  “If you were to look at successful animal shelters in our area that are of similar like size and intake, two cities that are comparable are Berkeley and Hayward… both of those are successful need that oversight manager. We are talking about a $1 million a year company who is providing service to our community and we don’t have a manager. It’s important to me that we actually have someone who is well versed in animal service operation and does have relationships with other organizations that deal with animal welfare and could represent and move forward our shelter to be one of the successful shelters in the Bay Area.”

Ogorchock reiterated she saw this position as adding an extra person.

“It’s going to be funded by Maddie and I like the idea of another person being there. That manager would give us that extra person working there. It’s not saying anything disrespectful to anyone else so I want to see more people in there working with the animals,” said Ogorchock.

She highlighting that police get their people back which is where people wanted them anyway. With the savings, there could be room to add people to animal services.

Councilwoman Monica Wilson stated that when this recommendation came up, they were missing the policy and procedure piece to animal services and they needed someone to understand the budget.

“What I believe, how you are explaining this position, this person would oversee that budget and be able to come back and make recommendations on shifts or policy,” said Wilson.

Chief Brooks said she was correct and even on staff reports, would free him up from having to do animal services tasks and let him focus more on police work.

“This person would be taking on more of the administrative management functions that he or she would have a broader and deeper understanding,” explained Brooks. “While I have learned  quite a bit just through my experience in dealing with the animal shelter, this is going to be an expert in their field and will be able to speak more articulately about the things that are going on and future plans and visions, legal updates regarding animal services care.”

Thorpe stated he had never met Monika (Helgemo) and didn’t understand her role other than being the supervisor. He asked for clarification about her role and how this one was different.

Brooks stated that Helgemo was put in a supervisor role because they had lost the previous manager and no other staff available—which is why the police department came in for management oversight.

“With this position, this will free up Monika to do some of the things that the volunteers are talking about to adequately supervise what is going on in the shelter and supervise the ACA and adoptions,” explained Brooks. “Monica can supervise the day-to-day operations.”

Mayor Sean Wright noted 6-months is a long time to look at this opportunity to work together.

The Council voted 4-1 with Thorpe dissenting.

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16 COMMENTS

  1. The problem with Antioch Animal Services is the passion of the volunteers who only care about the animals and rarely see the business side of things. The shelter cost money and time. I wish they would just shut down the entire facility and put the money towards people. The volunteers can become non-profits helping animals, stop using public funds on animals when we have a homeless problem.

    • Petaluma Animal Services Foundation is a 501c3 nonprofit, with an emphasis on no-kill, high outcome sheltering in our service areas has expressed an interest in taking over the shelter. We sent letters to each individual on the city council and none followed up.

    • So agree with you!!!! Antioch is also taking in three times as many animals as Martinez according to the investigation. JUST SHUT IT DOWN AND OPEN A DECENT FACILITY! I would definitely be on board with Petaluma Animal Services. Martinez should be shut down too. With the amount of taxes we antioch residents are paying in these new developments, we should have an entire friggin medical center for animals.

    • Hey Jim! The homeless people have a choice and they made the decision to be “homeless.” Animals don’t have such a luxury. They are dependent on us. We domesticated them and they are our responsibility! I have absolutely no respect for people who just dump their animals in parks or abandon them into the neighborhood when they move! What a horrible thing to do!

      • Totally agree ,half of them are getting 200 a month in food stamps from the state just for being homeless which we know what they choose to use that money for not good they sell the cards for drugs .If they stop getting money from the state for being homeless and tighten up on what they need to do to get money from the state also the biggest problem is the Drugs…..people are breeding animals n selling online n if people stop buying them n adopted we wouldn’t have a issue people get animals then dont want to care for them or pay for medical, food for them ….reality check raising a animal is no different than having a child it’s takes time,attention, money,and love people …..stop taking in animals and not be a responsible parent ….

  2. Am I reading this correctly, you have a huge vote like this and Lamar Thorpe doesn’t even know who Monika is and what she does? Hey Lamar, this isn’t school, you are tasked with making the best decision for the entire city and your votes have consequences. Lamar has been a total failure if you ask me.

    Start doing your homework or you will be replaced sooner rather than later. At least the Mayor visited the shelter and made an educated decision.

  3. Monika Helgemo is awesome. She should be promoted. I have dealt with her over the years and her communication skills are absolutely great.

  4. Agree with Jim. Actually we should never have started our own shelter. Monika and Friends of Animal Service have been a lot of the problem. Surprised by Lamar here. Generally he is the most educated person on the council when it comes to budget.

  5. @Julio: Hi, Julio, thanks for the comment. If the City is on the hook for a new position after ARF funding is over then it needs to be budgeted. Since I have a pretty clear understanding of our fiscal situation, I’m not voting to add new positions to future budgets if we’re already projected to deficit spend. -Lamar

  6. Agree with your position. I guess I didn’t see a strong enough statement in this article. Sorry I missed the meeting.

    • @Julio,

      Lamar didn’t get a strong statement in the recap because he didn’t give one during the meeting. He asked questions but gave no reason for his “no” vote. His explanation above was more than he gave last night.

  7. You couldn’t pay me to live in Antioch, but if I was a resident, I would be thankful to ARF, Tony La Russa and Maddie’s Fund. Sadly, the animals are probably better than the average resident of Antioch.

    What an ungrateful group of people.

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