The city of Tulsa plans to seek proposals that could lead to an outside entity operating the animal shelter and potentially affect the livelihoods of dozens of city employees, according to a plan announced Wednesday.
The request for competitive sealed proposals is intended to provide a framework by which the city can evaluate and compare how outside organizations would operate the facility to the vision presented by existing staff, according to a city of Tulsa news release.
The city’s Animal Welfare staff will also have an opportunity to submit a proposal.
The request for proposals does not cover animal welfare officers and related field service employees because those are the responsibility of the city.
The city’s goal is to have Animal Welfare’s new operational structure in place by the beginning of the new fiscal year on July 1.
“This isn’t our animal shelter,” said the mayor’s chief of staff, Jack Blair. “It’s the citizens’ animal shelter. If a community partner can show us how to do it better — within the constraints we have — it’s our obligation to listen.”
Blair said the shelter would continue to be funded at its current level. “We are not approaching this as a cost-cutting measure,” he said. “We want a better operation.”
The competitive process will “help the city implement its goals of maintaining safe and sanitary conditions at the shelter, establishing and following consistent protocols, and enforcing and facilitating spaying and neutering,” the news release states.
What remains unclear is how many Animal Welfare employees would potentially be affected should an outside entity be chosen to operate the shelter.
Tulsa Animal Welfare has 38 full-time positions and two part-time positions, all but two of which are filled. Of those 40 positions, 12 are field workers.
City officials said Wednesday that the actual number of employees who could be affected is closer to 20 because positions overlap between management and enforcement.
The city has no potential partner in mind. Should an outside entity be chosen to operate the shelter, the city would require that the partner agency interview and “give fair consideration to all current shelter staff for available positions,” according to the news release.
Shelter Manager Jean Letcher said Wednesday that she could not comment on the proposal.
Animal welfare advocates have for years complained that the shelter is in poor condition and is poorly run and that the city is not doing enough to reduce euthanasia numbers, to name of few of the issues that have plagued it.
Jamee Suarez-Howard, president of the Oklahoma Alliance for Animals, said the organization supports the city’s decision.
“We have been aware of the issues at Tulsa Animal Welfare for the past few years and addressed our concerns immediately, along with many other citizens and rescues,” Suarez-Howard said. “The decision that was made today reflects that our city leaders are strongly committed to making animal welfare a priority.
“We are excited to see what proposals come in and what’s next.”
Mayor G.T. Bynum introduced in 2018 a comprehensive plan to address the concerns of local animal advocates. Since then, the city has hired more employees, extended hours at the shelter, made animal welfare officers available seven days a week and allocated more than $4 million for a comprehensive remodel of the shelter.
The mayor also established an Animal Welfare Commission that has been holding public meetings as part of its charge to update the city’s animal welfare ordinance.
The city’s animal shelter is at 3031 N. Erie Ave.