The Bayonne City Council opted to fire their animal control provider last night as the owner and operator of the company is in the midst of a federal investigation.
Peter Franco, a resident who has been rallying against New Jersey Animal Control & Rescue since when they were awarded the contract in December 2015, was furious with the administration for refusing to say that the company – owned and operated by Geoff Santini – was being fired due to incompetence.
“Are we firing this guy?,” Franco asked.
“His contract will be terminated as of May 14th, 2018,” responded Bayonne Corporation Counsel Jay Coffey.
When Franco asked what NJACR was being terminated for, Coffey said that he wasn’t being fired with cause and the city was simply allow his contract to expire. That didn’t sit well with Franco.
“Despite going out to RFP a year ago related to this based on complaints, is what [Council President] Sharon Nadrowski said. You’ve heard all of the testimony over the last 30 months in regards to this, regards of lack of response times, the lack of shelter space … and you still won’t fire this guy.”
Coffey explained that the city did not have the option to fire Santini immediately since the Jersey City-based Liberty Humane Society said they could not take on the responsibilities the city required until May 15th.
Liberty Humane Society’s contract will run from May 15th, 2018 through December 31st, 2019.
Franco’s fight against Santini has got him ensnared in a defamation lawsuit over a website he owned and operated, bayonneanimalcontrol.com (it is no longer online).
Despite this fact, Franco has maintained everything on the website was factual, even if it painted Santini in a very unfavorable light.
While Bayonne resident Kathleen Henderson said she understood why NJACR had to be let go, she argued that Liberty Humane Society wasnâ€™t any better and expressed disappointment the city wasnâ€™t bringing animal control in house.
“I understand your situation with Mr. Santini and the PR nightmare it has caused but I’m glad you acknowledged you’re not terminating him with cause. I worked with all of his employees: they do their job,” she said.
“Liberty doesn’t even come out so we’re back to the fact that ‘oh Santini doesn’t come on time.’ Please, Liberty is no better, and I hope we get rid of them real quick because I was hoping we would have our own in house animal control and our own shelter.”
Meanwhile, another resident, Jill Pustorino, wanted to know what NJACR had been doing with wildlife they picked up since paperwork on the matter was inconclusive.
“I don’t know the answer to what happened: I was told, in a meeting with one of his employees, that they were relocated … I don’t have any documentation, evidence of that,” Coffey said.
“But you said you would monitor him and you couldn’t from these records. So, probably, the follow up should be ‘you didn’t provide us good records, show us now what you did’ because for all you know, he just hit them over the head with a shovel and dumped them somewhere. I mean there’s no proof what he did,” Pustorino stated.
Megan McNally, who has always been against the city working with NJACR, had some choice words about the situation.
“You think this makes it okay that you’re stuck in a corner now and you go ‘well, we gotta go with LHS.’ LHS did nothing wrong with their original contract – they were also terminated without cause. So that doesn’t wipe your hands clean with any of this and I think you’re all despicable.”
Louis Zayas, a North Bergen attorney who has been retained by Santini, slammed the council’s decision to cave into public pressure.
â€œThe decision to terminate Santiniâ€™s contract was unfair and undoubtedly the product of the unsubstantiated allegations of wrongdoing in the media and the defamatory statements made by Mr. Oâ€™Donnell,” he told Hudson County View.
“Mr. Santiniâ€™s reputation has been unfairly tarnished and I will vindicate him in court.â€
Zayas also said that he plans on suing the North Bergen Housing Authority and the North Bergen Renaissance Corporation for wrongful termination.
Santini was fired from the North Bergen Housing Authority earlier this month after an expose series from the NBC I-Team alleged that he rarely ever showed up to work.
Shortly after that, Hudson County View exclusively confirmed that the U.S. Attorney’s Office had issued subpoenas relating to his animal control business.
Earlier this week, former Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell, whose challenging Jimmy Davis for the mayor’s seat on May 8th, called on the council to fire NJACR due to “reports of horrific abuses of animals.”
Since the NBC investigation began, Santini lost his animal control contracts in Garfield and Bayonne, while West New York has put out a request for proposals for animal control services.