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A Muzzle on LCAS Comments?

Animal advocates almost didn’t get a chance to tell the Board of Lane County Commissioners what they think of the plans to make major changes to the way the county deals with its stray pets. The public was allowed to comment April 5 at a commissioners’ meeting, but only after Commissioners Rob Handy and Pete Sorenson made repeated requests to have the animal control issue added to the agenda.

Both Handy and Sorenson requested that the public be able to comment on the proposal that would change the way Lane County Animal Services (LCAS) is run. Proposed changes to LCAS include turning the running of the shelter over to a private contractor instead of having it as a public agency and moving the two remaining animal services employees to the public works department. County Administrator Liane Richardson said she devised the changes to LCAS in response to city and county budget cuts.

Members of the No Kill Community Coalition have expressed concern that the county process is moving too quickly and has lacked opportunity for community input. They also question why a member of the LCAS Advisory Board has not been included in the process. At the April 5 meeting Commissioners Sid Leikin, Jay Bozievich and Faye Stewart voted against Handy’s proposal to review the request for proposals that is being sent out to private agencies wishing to take over the shelter.

Prior to the meeting, Richardson balked at the commissioners’ request for public input on the proposed changes to LCAS, writing in an email to the board that the public work session that was requested would “violate budget law.”

Richardson wrote that she copied County Counsel Alex Gardner on her reply, because “a budget violation is a serious matter.” 

Under Oregon law it is “probably not” permissible “for the commissioners to discuss services and imminent budget reductions,” according to Gardner, who is also the county district attorney. However, commissioners can discuss issues such as changing LCAS in ways that are unrelated to the budget.

Sorenson responded to Richardson’s email by pointing out the need for the board to hold public discussions of topics that affect the county: “The board has held many work sessions on many topics, most of which eventually get around to money, and I’m not aware that these work sessions are anything other than informational.” He wrote, “No one wants to do business in secret and no one wants to violate budget law.”

Handy concurred, “This is why I asked for this issue to be put on our agenda for next week — so that we can consider, in public view, what is best.” He added, “This email conversation should happen at the board meeting: Addressing, in public, why a public hearing is inadvisable now but that a work session may make sense.”

The county budget itself will not be discussed until May. According to Gardner, Budget Committee members (which include the commissioners) cannot discuss the county budget “until several things have taken place,” including the reading of the budget message, which Gardner said, kicks off the public budget process. The reading of the budget message is scheduled for May 1. Richardson will release her proposed budget April 24. The full budget timeline is at wkly.ws/18t