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Startup wins Petaluma animal service contract

The Petaluma City Council selected a Petaluma startup to take over the city’s animal services contract, choosing an unproven group with deep animal welfare experience over Petaluma’s beleaguered animal shelter operator and an outside organization from Marin.

At the end of a four-hour Monday council meeting in which three dozen speakers made impassioned pitches for the three contract bidders in a packed council chambers, the elected officials chose North Bay Animal Services to take over the contract in August.

Founded in January, the nonprofit has a four-member board and a seven-member advisory committee with a combined 250 years of experience in the animal welfare industry, according to the group’s bid.

“We all bring a different piece of history with us,” said Sue Davy, the president and founder of North Bay Animal Services. “Every group forms at one time or another. We’re just at the beginning at this point.”

Davy was an original founder of Petaluma Animal Services Foundation, the current animal services provider that started in 2012 when the city privatized the division. The original $478,000 animal services contract was renewed in 2015.

City council members asked staff to put out a request for proposals after several employees complained last year of a hostile work environment at the nonprofit that rescues and cares for pets and stray animals in Petaluma. Some accused Executive Director Jeff Charter of behavior that made them feel uncomfortable, including using racially and sexually charged language.

City Manager John Brown led a search that ultimately recommended Marin Humane, a Novato-based operator, to take over the contract.

“Marin Humane was judged to have the greatest amount of relevant background and experience,” Brown said of the more than 100-year-old organization.

But the council voted 7-0 to reject the city manager’s recommendation, favoring the local provider.

“In examining everything, the one thing I was leaning towards was a local solution to this issue,” Councilman Dave King said. “I think volunteers here are much more likely to support a local solution than they would something from out of town.”

The council directed city staff to negotiate a contract with North Bay Animal Services for two years with an option for one-year renewals. North Bay Animal Services lists its executive director as Mark Scott, the former senior animal control officer with Petaluma Animal Services, who brought many of the complaints against Charter, his former boss. Scott was fired in May for supporting North Bay Animal Services’ bid to take over the contract.

Marin Humane’s proposed fees were higher than those of the current operator, which played a role in Councilman Mike Healy’s vote.

“Marin prices are not Petaluma prices,” he said. “That’s a factor for me.”

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