Was SPCA in violation of contract?
by BRIAN GRAVES Banner Staff Writer
Aug 05, 2014 | 1585 views | 0 0 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Was the county’s contract with the SPCA of Bradley County to run the animal shelter violated?

Are the contract’s terms realistic?

Those two questions generated many opinions, but no specific answers at Monday’s meeting of the Bradley County Commission.

It took the failure to approve two separate motions for the commissioners to signal it was going to “wait-and-see” as to how the current situation at the facility plays out.

The shelter currently remains under the direction of Bobbi Anderson.

But, because of actions by the SPCA board of directors last week, SPCA president Betti Gravelle is being allowed a 30-day window to implement an operational model she said was never given a chance.

The board will meet again to review the situation on Aug. 18.

Commissioner Jeff Yarber believes the contract was in fact broken and referred to provision 5(a) in the contract, which states, “Lessee agrees to provide sheltering of all domestic animals brought to the facility by Bradley County residents at no charge to the citizens during business hours.”

Anderson has admitted the shelter refused to take animals for a period of time, noting the facility had reached capacity and there was concern for the health of the animals.

Yarber made a motion to give the SPCA a 30-day “notice to cure” what he said was a violation of the contract.

“It says nothing about capacity,” Yarber said.

He noted the contract calls for a 30-day notice to remedy any failure to provide the services as stated in the contract.

“It needs to be on record that this is an issue and a violation of the agreement,” Yarber said. “And, you have 30 days to fix the issue.”

He said in his opinion it was the Commission “just doing what we’re supposed to do.”

Commissioner Brian Smith seconded the motion and asked County Attorney Crystal Freiberg if it was her opinion the contract was violated.

“Breach of contract is always a fact-specific inquiry. In my opinion, if they are currently failing to take all animals brought by residents of Bradley County at no charge during normal business hours, they can be in breach of contract,” Freiberg said.

She added if the shelter is currently taking animals they would no longer be in breach.

Commissioner Charlotte Peak-Jones, who also serves on the SPCA board, confirmed the shelter has been taking animals since July 28.

Commission vice chairman J. Adam Lowe said he had not received any formal communication from the SPCA board the shelter had stopped taking animals.

“That’s why I’m sort of reluctant to make any sort of factual determination because my office has not been provided any records as to any of that information. I have not done any physical inquiry as to whether they are taking animals or not,” Freiburg said.

Yarber argued under those opinions, the SPCA could be in breach of contract one day and not the next, causing the potential of a continuous cycle of breaches without repercussions.

Peak-Jones said the shelter “never actually quit taking them.”

“They put them on a waiting list,” she said. “This contract does not say we have to take them immediately, and we rescheduled them for another business hour.”

Peak-Jones then asked Freiberg if the SPCA and the county could renegotiate the paragraph in question “to put things in there like ‘In case you are full, your waiting list would be appropriate.’”

Freiberg said two parties can renegotiate at any time as long as both are willing to come to the table for negotiation.

Peak-Jones then requested the subject be placed on the agenda for next week’s Commission work session.

Commissioner Jeff Morelock said he saw no reason to vote in favor of the motion, “if the contract is being complied with today.”

Commissioner Mark Hall, who also sits on the SPCA board, said he was not “exactly pleased with the way things are going at the animal shelter.”

“I do think we are off pace. I do think there are some improvements that need to be made,” Hall said.

He added there are now “unrealistic expectations” after the recent handling of the more than 200 dogs in the puppy mill discovery.

“I think we are addressing [the problems] as they arise,” Hall said.

Commissioner Connie Wilson had Peak-Jones reconfirm the 30-day window the SPCA board had given for improvements.

“I think common sense says that you can’t put 10 pounds in a 5-pound bag,” said Commissioner Ed Elkins.

“We got into a situation where we had more animals coming in than they had any place to put them,” he said. “That would have been true if we had been in a contract with the city to provide the service or do it on our own. It makes no difference whose kennels they are, when they’re full, they’re full.”

He said if the shelter was full and someone brought another animal, “It think it’s up to the director to determine whether or not they have a place to take care of them.”

Elkins offered a substitute motion that the county enter renegotiations with the SPCA to “bring a better language” to the contract.

Yarber said the substitute motion was not appropriate because it’s not pertinent to the subject of motion.

Lowe, acting as chairman in the absence of Chairman Louie Alford, ruled it was “because it is relative to the language of the contract and has to do with the terms whether they are in breach of contract.”

Commissioner Bill Winters called it “a slippery slope.”

“If we open up for that, we’re likely to open it up for an awful lot of other areas,” Winters said.

“I’m disappointed these [SPCA and Cleveland for No Kill City] can’t work together,” he added. “One of the reasons we accepted this contract for $80,000 is we were impressed with the fact they could get grants, get funds, be able to raise $20,000 a month. That’s the reason we did.”

He said if the contract was reopened, “we need to do it the right way.”

Winters said the SPCA board has “given these groups 30 days to get their act together.”

“I’m for that,” he said.

Yarber called the substitute a “frivolous motion.”

“We accepted an $80,000 contract because it was the lowest bid and we wanted to stick it to the city,” he said. “This is nothing but a knee-jerk reaction just like what got us into this mess. The planning was horrible and the execution has not been good so far.”

Yarber asked if the Commission would renegotiate the contract “every time something goes wrong for them.”

“This is disheartening as a commissioner,” Yarber said.

Peak-Jones noted her opinion of the contract is it is “open to interpretation, because they are not in violation today.”

Elkins said his motion was very specific on the subject of capacity.

“It is trying to bring some relief to a situation that is very obvious that this is going to keep coming up every time they get into a situation where they are at capacity,” he said. “There is a capacity there. I don’t think we should be going in and saying it was a breach of contract when it’s a pretty impossible situation for them to react to.”

Elkins also took exception to the “knee-jerk” remarks by Yarber.

“I want to point out we worked with the city. The county mayor tried to work with the city manager and renegotiate the contract with them,” he said. “That was unsuccessful. So, we made our best-faith offer to the city which was turned down.”

He said the county then had no county control at all for several months.

“There was a large outcry from the community, so we did a temporary contract with the city, or we had an opportunity to try to come up with an alternative,” Elkins said.

“We did that for several months, so I think the Commission and the people [who] worked on this put a very good-faith effort to try to come up with the best thing we could. I don’t see a knee-jerk reaction in that. I think that’s a mischaracterization of all the efforts that went into this.”

He said there had to be some limits and some solution to the language in the contract.

Yarber said there was an offer from the city that would have saved $100,000.

He said from what he was hearing at the Commission table, the Commission should be put on 24/7 notice for “when we get that specific hour when they turn somebody away.”

“We can have a meeting if it’s 3 a.m. and file a ‘notice to cure,’” Yarber said. “If it’s two days later and they start taking animals again, then they’re not in violation of the contract again.”

He did commend Anderson’s work saying, “I do believe if Bobbi Anderson were on the committee that put this together, this wouldn’t have happened this way.”

The substitute motion failed with “no” votes from commissioners Robert Rominger, Winters, Morelock, Smith, Lowe and Yarber.

Commissioners Elkins, Wilson, Peak-Jones, Mel Griffith, and Mark Hall voted “yes.”

Chairman Louie Alford and commissioners Terry Caywood and Bill Ledford were not present.

Yarber’s original motion failed with only Yarber, Lowe and Smith voting in favor.

Yarber’s motion to negotiate a temporary contract with the city also failed with a 8-3 vote with Wilson, Smith and Yarber casting affirmative votes.

The commissioners will now discuss the situation again at next Monday’s work session, which is scheduled for noon.