Kern County supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to fire controversial Animal Control Director Jen Woodard.
It was apparent that Woodard’s job was in jeopardy from the beginning Tuesday afternoon, after her plan for developing a county spay-neuter program was rejected by supervisors.
They voted instead to seek outside proposals to design an aggressive, targeted spay-neuter program using $250,000 that they had earmarked for that.
“The supervisors felt a change in leadership was necessary,” said Board of Supervisors Chair Mike Maggard.
Now was the time, he said, because county animal control is undergoing massive change.
The county and the city of Bakersfield are severing their joint sheltering agreement and on Tuesday the supervisors agreed to lease a new animal shelter site.
And they decided to look into contracting out as many Animal Control services as possible.
Maggard said Tuesday’s actions could be seen as a “window into the mindset that the board has” about the future of animal control.
“In every difficult circumstance there is opportunity,” he said.
Woodard declined, in a message to The Californian, to comment on the board’s decision.
Woodard’s termination cheered animal advocates who stood side-by-side outside the board chambers Tuesday.
“I'm sorry it's come to this,” said Judi Daunell, director of Friends of the Kern County Animal Shelters Foundation. “In the beginning we all had high hopes, very high hopes. Unfortunately, over time, the mistakes and missteps made it become obvious we should probably move on.”
Animal advocate Liz Keogh was one of Woodard’s biggest critics.
“She was unable to take control of that agency from the day she came in. She didn't know what she was doing,” Keogh said.
“She gave contradictory and conflicting instructions to staff, she was unable to be forthright, staff was beside themselves, volunteers had no idea what to do and her relationship with the public was awful. I'm sorry it took supervisors so long.”
Leaders also talked about their experience with spay-neuter programs and how they could coordinate to build a program.
"This year alone, I am up to 670 dog vouchers and 293 cat vouchers," said Daunell.
So far this year the county has issued only 124 vouchers.
Maggard said now that Animal Control is a stand-alone department and the rancorous relationship with the city of Bakersfield is over, the top job may be more marketable.
“That is a layer of complication that doesn’t exist anymore,” Maggard said. “I think today we are a more attractive animal control entity.”
Woodard’s departure, however, leaves a leadership gap that supervisors likely will still find hard to fill.
Maggard said Animal Control Deputy Director Shyanne Schull will handle management of the department in the coming weeks.
Kern County hasn’t had the best luck keeping animal control leaders.
Woodard was the fifth person in the top job in the past 10 years and the second to be terminated in the past 2 1/2 years.
In November 2011, six months after Animal Control Manager Kim Mullins was released, the county launched a national search for the first Animal Control Director to report directly to supervisors instead of another county department head.
By June 2012, supervisors admitted they hadn’t attracted any qualified candidates. They reduced the job’s education requirements and restarted the search.
Woodard was hired in August 2012. She experienced problems from almost the start.
In December 2012, she championed a no-bid, nearly $1 million, two-year contract to have Los Angeles-based nonprofit AngelDogs come to the Kern shelter twice a month to spay and neuter shelter animals.
The move outraged taxpayer advocates and the City of Bakersfield; the latter had recently inked an agreement with the county giving the city more input in major shelter decisions.
In January, Woodard authored a report called "Puppy Love" in which she blamed "cultural beliefs" in the Hispanic community for animal overpopulation and disease.
She also said local veterinarians were not proactive, local animal welfare groups hadn’t provided county Animal Control with "leadership" for decades and that progressive ideas just don't "make it over the hill to Bakersfield," from Los Angeles.
In March, Woodard got into a public cat fight on the Kern County Animal Control's Facebook site, calling one woman involved in rescue operations names and claiming the person had threatened staffers.
Finally, after the county/city split was announced in August, Woodard took to her Facebook account and accused the SPCA of being "in the pocket" of the city, and the city of planning a "sweep" for animals in the days before the county had to vacate the shelter in order to dump those animals on it.
The supervisors’ decision came after Woodard presented them with her plan for turning an ineffective county spay-neuter voucher program into an aggressive, targeted effort.
Supervisors were sharply critical of portions of Woodard’s plan.
Woodard said she planned to offer vouchers for low-cost animal surgeries to anyone proving they were low-income, and to use private veterinarians for surgeries.
Supervisors and others said veterinarians are reluctant to take on the kind of paperwork that administering her idea would entail.
And Maggard said every report he's read states — and Woodard herself has told him — that the best way to target spay-neuter surgeries is geographically, not based on income.
"You"re going to have to convince me that targeting by neighborhood is not the best way to do this," Maggard said.
He asked Woodard how the county could target services geographically.
She acknowledged that shelter data was incomplete but said she believes the 93307 zip code sends the most dogs and cats to the county shelter — with the 93305, 93306 and 93308 zip codes close behind.
How many animals did those areas produce, Maggard asked.
Woodard couldn’t tell him.
Following Maggard’s questioning, Woodard spoke in support of the request for proposals.
"I do agree that nonprofits have a little more leeway to do things more creatively," Woodard said. "We are open to partnering with nonprofits."
The supervisors’ discussion and action came just days after The Californian published a series of stories outlining how Jacksonville, Fla., successfully tackled its overpopulation problem — by figuring out where unwanted animals were coming from and focusing spay-neuter efforts there.
The series pointed out that Kern County needed to improve its data collection to realize the same success, and to make it easy and affordable for low-income people to get their animals fixed.