Brown, Rousseau question proposal for privatizing Fayette-funded animal shelter

The Fayette County Commission at the early January meeting. Photo/Ben Nelms.
The Fayette County Commission at the early January meeting. Photo/Ben Nelms.

A Request for Proposal (RFP) issued by Fayette County to gauge interest in privatizing the Fayette County Animal Shelter has become a topic of discussion with some on the County Commission. The issuing of the RFP, which received no bids in response, resulted in significantly opposing perspectives among commissioners.

Above, the Fayette County Commission meeting in early January. Photo/Ben Nelms.

Commissioner Steve Brown in a January email to County Clerk Tameca White said the RFP was issued without authority and Commissioner Charles Rousseau, also in a January email, said he believed the matter would be discussed further, with the idea of reaching consensus.

Contacted about their perspective on the issue, commissioners Randy Ognio, Chuck Oddo and Chairman Eric Maxwell said they a did not object to Rousseau’s idea in September of exploring privatization. The three said they believed that, on that basis, staff would proceed with the RFP process to determine if there was community interest in privatizing the animal shelter. Any interest in response to the RFP would then be taken up by the board and be subject to a vote, they said.

A check of the minutes of the Sept. 28 commission meeting note County Administrator Steve Rapson responding to comments by Rousseau after executive session regarding a RFP, and saying that staff would move forward with the issue.

Fayette County Commissioner Charles Rousseau.
Fayette County Commissioner Charles Rousseau.

On Jan. 5, Rousseau in an email to Rapson and commissioners said, “I didn’t realize we had put this out for solicitation. My comments and thoughts on this subject were designed to have us discuss further and agree to reach some kind of consensus as to the viability of such a proposal. I may have missed something along the way.”

Brown in a Jan. 20 email to County Clerk Tameca White said, “Commissioner Brown was informed by a local citizen that the County Administrator moved forward on a privatization RFP for the county Animal Shelter. This action was not authorized by the Board of Commissioners and there was no consultation with the commissioners regarding the formation and content of the request for proposal. Action requested: A serious discussion regarding staff acting without authority and what actions to take.”

A look at the minutes of the Sept. 28 commission meeting, available online, and under the section entitled Commissioners’ Reports notes, “(Rousseau) stated that he would like for the Board to consider giving instruction for the County Manager to look at someone else or another agency running the animal shelter.”

Also in the minutes of the Sept. 28 commission meeting and after the board had returned from executive session, “Commissioner Rousseau stated that he would like to have the Board approve staff to explore to a RFP for the privatization of the animal shelter. Mr. Rapson stated that staff would bring that to the Board at the October 26 board meeting.”

A portion of the Nov. 14 County Manager meeting reflected the RFP for the privatization of the animal shelter operations was underway, with a target date of December. The RFP was also discussed at other County Manager meetings.

The RFP was advertised by the county, with a bid opening scheduled for Dec. 27. No proposals were received.

A Jan. 5 email from Rapson to commissioners stated, “Purchasing did not receive any bids or offers concerning seeking proposals for a qualified firm to operate the Animal Shelter.

Fayette County Administrator Steve Rapson.
Fayette County Administrator Steve Rapson.

Stephanie (Cohran) from the (Fayette County) Humane Society and Rebecca Tate had expressed interest in this procurement but no bids were received.

Staff will continue to operate the facility based upon the revised policies and guidance approved by the Commission.”

A Jan. 6 email from Brown to County Clerk Tameca White said, “Can you please email a copy of the request for proposal. Ted (Burgess) can pull it for you.”

Unlike Brown and Rousseau, commissioners Ognio, Oddo and Maxwell said their belief was that, based on no objections raised by others on the commission, staff was given direction to proceed with the RFP. All noted that Rousseau’s request was one of numerous issues pertaining to the animal shelter that were discussed by commissioners.

Maxwell said it is customary for staff to proceed if a commissioner makes a request and if there is no objection from other commissioners.

“If nobody expresses a ‘no,’ then it’s a ‘yes,’” Maxwell said Monday, adding that staff acted appropriately in proceeding with the FRP based on commissioners’ direction.

Ognio said Rousseau wanted to explore the feasibility of privatizing the animal shelter, with staff looking into the issue.

Responding to Brown’s assertion that staff acted without authority in issuing the RFP, Ognio said, “I don’t think they needed authority to investigate it. I think it was the direction given by a board member.”

Ognio added that no other commissioners voiced an objection to the idea of exploring privatization.

Oddo said he recalled Rousseau bringing up the issue along with other discussions about the shelter.

“I left the meeting with the distinct impression that we’d get an RFP for the shelter. The animal shelter was a huge topic. This seemed like a reasonable approach to take. I thought it was sufficient for (Rapson) to go forward. I expected to get an RFP. I thought we were agreeing with (Rousseau) to get an RFP for privatization.”

Ognio commented further, saying that he does not know of the commission ever approving an RFP before it is issued.

“When something is needed, no matter what it is, staff issue the RFP then brings the bids to the commission,” said Ognio.