Culver City Progress Blog
March 16, 2012
CULVER CITY ANIMAL SERVICES PROGRAM
by Gary Silbiger
(Gary Silbiger is the Co-Editor of the Culver City Progress Blog and the former Mayor of Culver City
In celebration of Culver City's March 12 presentation to its Animal Care and Services Program, thanks in part to the highly respected Animal Services officer, Corolla Fleeger, we now look at the process through which this important issue was approved by the Council.
Beginning in 2005, the Friends of Culver City Animals, a broad based organization of 2,000 supporters, has been working towards improving the lives of animals and, their owners, and all who care for them. With the election of 3 new Councilmembers in 2008, hope grew that a more sympathetic animal policy was within reach. Los Angeles County was both the employer of the part time animal services officer and the shelter - neither of which had much support in our community.
In April of 2008, the City Council voted to have Councilmembers Christopher Armenta and me serve as the 2 members of its Animal Services Committee working with City staff. Soon, members of the Friends of Culver City Animals were participating in the meetings. From these meetings came a proposal to agendize the topic of replacing the County's animal services officer with one employed by Culver City.
After waiting for more than 3 years for a City Council agenda topic on local control of animal services, the evening of June 16, 2008 brought out a full house at the City Council chambers. Between verbal and written comments that night, 77 individuals were in favor of the creation of Culver City's own officer while 12 opposed. Individuals gave vivid descriptions of the inadequacy of the County's animal services officer. During those years as a Councilmember, I received daily complaints from Culver City residents about nonexistent officers, unanswered complaints, injured animals waiting days to be attended to, dead animals not being picked up, ignoring mean animals and their owners, and many other safety and health issues.
At the meeting, after both the City staff and public commented about local animal services, the Councilmembers had their turn. Quickly, Councilmember Scott Malsin made a motion to contract with Los Angeles County for a full time officer and contract with local veterinarians to hold the Culver City animals in order to contact their owners. No one seconded this motion.
Shortly afterwards, Councilmember Christopher Armenta made a motion for Culver City to have its own full time Animal Services Officer which was seconded by me.
In reply to Councilmember Armenta's motion, Councilmember Andrew Weissman stated, "It's a difficult issue." He claimed more needed to be known because the information was incomplete. He said he did not know the impact on the police department where the officer would be located. Councilmember Weissman concluded that due to the difficult economic times, it was improper to begin this new program. He ended, "It's not an easy decision for any of us."
Councilmember Scott Malsin agreed with Weissman. Malsin said local control is not the answer for everything. He claimed that Culver City is a small city so we do not have the resources for our own Animal Services Officer.
When it came time for Councilmember Micheal O'Leary to speak, he quickly noted he could not support Armenta's motion, but rather made a motion for a 24 month pilot program to begin Culver City's Animal Services Officer. The 2 year program would begin at the time of hiring the officer. Councilmember Armenta seconded O'Leary's motion and withdrew his own
Not content with the obvious direction of the council majority, Councilmember Malsin again made his motion to have the County provide a full time officer. Again no second was made. Malsin commented, "I'd rather do something more responsible" than what was proposed by others. His opposition was to the "hasty slapped together proposal" of O'Leary.
Towards the end of this important item, Councilmember Weissman asked if the money for the officer should be taken from the City's general fund or money allocated to the Councilmember's fund which also comes from the general fund. I explained that it would be better to come directly from the general fund, at which time Malsin started loudly laughing for some time. I told Malsin, who as mayor was chairing the meeting, it was disrespectful to the audience to laugh at them, and he replied that he was not disrespectful to them. When I asked who he was disrespectful to, he only said that I was "cavalier with the people's money."
The inevitable vote was taken with 3 members for beginning Culver City's own Animal Services officer (Armenta, O'Leary, and Silbiger) and 2 opposed (Malsin and Weissman).
The spectators that night were overjoyed with the prospect of having a safe and humane animal program right here in Culver City. Although the 24 month pilot program was approved, this 2 year review requirement was unnecessary. If Councilmember O'Leary had joined with the pending motion for the unrestricted time period which already had 2 Council supporters, it would have passed. Culver City has begun numerous programs without time restrictions and this additional burden could have caused less interested applicants for a potentially temporary job as well as creating an artificial time requirement for evaluating a needed program. However, in the end, a positive local animal services officer was approved and that is the main aspect of this meeting.
Let's look at the advantages of having a Culver City Animal Services officer. Local control means accountability to the public. If someone wants to speak to the Culver City officer, he simply calls or goes to the Police Department or talks with the City Manager. And if an individual wants further clarification, she speaks with a councilmember or at a City Council meeting. This accountability never worked when the Los Angeles County officer was located in Carson and reported to County officials and the Supervisors. Culver City knows the importance of local control. For instance, we would not turn over our police force to the County sheriffs, our fire department to Los Angeles City, or our schools, garbage collection, recycling, parks, or emergency medical services to other cities or the county. Why, people asked, would Culver City accept lower inadequate services for animal services than our other programs. If an excellent program costs more money than a failing one, Culver City residents have always preferred - and were willing to pay for - the excellent one.
Likewise, having a Culver City officer is preferable because she spends time relating to other Culver City employees and is supervised directly by our City Manager allowing for local evaluation, training, hiring, and firing. The Culver City officer works as a team member with other Culver City staff and departments. Located within the Culver City police department allows for animal services and other safety programs to support each other by servicing animals when necessary in a crime scene. A full time caring officer results in the difference between life and death; joy and heartache. Since the hiring of the officer, our whole community celebrates the humane treatment of both animals and animal-lovers in Culver City.
So when some Councilmembers said that night, "it's not an easy decision" and "I'd rather do something more responsible", the people of Culver City knew having a Culver City officer was the "easy and responsible" thing to do. Leaders have to lead, not stand in the way of progress. Time has clearly shown the June 16, 2008 decision was correct.
And it all started with visionaries, led by Deborah Weinrauch, who know ways of effectively organizing and working constructively with elected officials. And the program keeps getting stronger. We thank you!