Bias alleged in Manatee Animal Partnership Study

skennedy@bradenton.comJune 18, 2014 

MANATEE -- Speakers complaining about the results of a survey of Manatee's Animal Services operation said Tuesday the interviewees were "hand-picked" by county officials, which skewed the results.

"People from other aspects weren't interviewed," said Barbara Hines during a review of the Manatee Animal Partnership Study, which concluded most interviewees supported a new public-private partnership to better handle animal adoptions.

"It's skewed, it's biased, the result was written into the study," she told the Manatee County Commission.

The county has been under scrutiny since Napier's Log Cabin Horse and Animal Sanctuary, 20010 State Road 64, was raided Feb. 5 by a multi-law enforcement effort led by the Manatee County Sheriff's Office. Roughly 300 animals were rescued from what investigators termed "deplorable" conditions.

Owners Alan and Sheree Napier have been arrested in connection with the animal cruelty case.

Nathan Levinson, who said he was affiliated with an animal rescue organization, alleged the survey participants were financial contributors, those who have contracts for county work and people who lacked experience with animals, advocacy or treatment.

However, the study had its supporters, too. Debra Starr, who does marketing and

public relations for the Animal Network, said the study's author, Len O'Hara, "has a very impressive background" and suggested his work could be a way to promote unity among diverse groups.

"We need somehow to bring it all together," she said. "This project would certainly do that."

All but two of 46 citizens interviewed about the animal services operation support a new public-private partnership, the study found.

Creating a partnership between the county and a nonprofit animal rescue-type organization drew nearly unanimous support among community and animal rescue leaders, the Herald has previously reported. If such a partnership were to materialize, the county would continue to handle all enforcement of its present Animal Services Division, while adoption functions would be handed off to a private partner.

County Administrator Ed Hunzeker said the county hopes to hire an independent firm to evaluate the division's service, operations, policies, procedures, staffing, protocol and facilities. A report would be issued in the fall, he said.

"We would come back to this board with a recommendation on how to proceed," he said, adding he would like to accomplish it all before spring next year.

"This is a good first step. There's going to be many more," said Commissioner Betsy Benac.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.

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