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By Lois Henry
I say good for the Board of Supervisors. (What the heck, it's the holidays.) With everyone breathing down supervisors' necks demanding action to create an aggressive spay/neuter program, they opted to take a step back on Tuesday and slow things down.
And, yes, I'm applauding that action.
Lois Henry appears on "First Look with Scott Cox" every Wednesday on KERN 1180 AM from 9 to 10 a.m. The show is also broadcast live on www.bakersfield.com. You can get your two cents in by calling 842-KERN.
Kern's animal overpopulation problem is critical. Kill rates at local shelters are abominable. It's been this way for far, far too long.
We have needed a massive spay/neuter effort here for years.
So, why am I glad supes decided to add more time to this already lingering problem?
Because we need to do it right.
The county has shot from the hip too many times, and missed almost every time, on animal issues. Which ends up being almost worse than doing nothing at all.
OK, so what happened on Tuesday.
Back around budget time, in August, supervisors pledged $250,000 for a spay/neuter program.
Former Kern County Animal Control Director Jen Woodard presented a plan to the board on Sept. 10 but supervisors didn't think it was innovative enough and told her to come up with a "request for proposals" (RFP) to open the money up to outside organizations.
The Board of Supervisors fired Woodard later that day and interim director of the renamed Kern Animal Services Department, Shyanne Schull, had her hands full moving animals to a new shelter and getting her feet under her.
So, the RFP took a back seat.
Schull recently dug the RFP out from under the rubble of Woodard's tenure and brought it to supervisors on Tuesday.
It did not enjoy a rousing reception.
I didn't have a problem with it. Sure, it's written in government "legaleeze." But I understood the document was meant to allow multiple organizations, whether they're businesses or nonprofits, to apply for all or a part of that $250,000.
(Maybe I read so much of this government gunk I've forgotten how badly it strikes regular people. I shall read nothing but comics during my Christmas break to counteract the effect.)
And the RFP did strike badly at Tuesday's meeting.
Animal welfare advocates and supervisors both felt the wording was so offputting the document would discourage people from coming forward with proposals and squelch innovation and creativity where it's needed most.
Judi Daunell, president of Friends of Kern County Animal Shelters Foundation, said she didn't think her group could apply based on numerous requirements in the RFP, not the least of which was that applicants have to have a physical address. Friends just has a P.O. box.
Then there was the county's exceedingly slow repayment process, a requirement for everyone involved in the organization to submit resumes, requirements for certain certifications and other concerns.
Though Animal Services Business Manager Blake Smith repeated that all those issues could be worked out at a meeting set for Jan. 7, supervisors weren't going for it.
"We are acting like government," was Supervisor Mike Maggard's take.
He suggested the county start over and meet with animal welfare advocates who are already providing spay/neuter services in the community. Groups Supervisor Leticia Perez referred to them as "the experts on the ground."
In the end, supervisors voted to kick the RFP back and directed Schull to come back on Jan. 7 to lay out a timeline for workshops to engage animal welfare groups in the process.
Beyond that, both Schull and Smith said they couldn't say how much longer it would take to get a program (or programs) in place. That all depends on what they learn in the workshops and further direction from the Board of Supervisors.
To that end, board chair-in-waiting Leticia Perez talked about forming a supervisors committee with public input to also work on the topic. That would have to wait, though, until after the new year when Perez takes over as chair.
OK, so workshops and committees don't sound like a roaring start to a spay/neuter effort, but I think, if handled properly and not allowed to drag on, these could be really beneficial.
There are a lot of groups and individuals working to help animals here in Bakersfield and all over Kern County. Most are shoestring operations run by passionate but overworked people.
Getting them together to share ideas and resources could, in itself, be a huge help.
When I talked with her about the RFP last week, Schull said it would be great to get all these disparate groups talking and moving in the same direction to more quickly curb our animal overpopulation problem.
Here's hoping 2014 is the year we make it happen.
Opinions expressed in this column are those of Lois Henry, not The Californian. Her column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. Comment at www.bakersfield.com, call her at 395-7373 or email email@example.com