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A community effort to bring Sonoma County's former Animal Care and Control director back after her controversial firing in July appears to have hit a wall.

Amy Cooper's dismissal sparked a public outcry and demands that she be reinstated. But talks between Cooper's attorney and county officials over the position broke down last week.

Jeremy Fietz, Cooper's attorney, said County Counsel Steven Woodside informed him that the county no longer was interested in mediation, and that the county will be holding an open recruitment for the director vacancy.

Fietz said he and Cooper were "disappointed and surprised" by the news.

"They explicitly brought up the prospect of mediation for the express purpose of discussing the terms under which Amy might return," Fietz said this week. "At no time in any of those discussions was it ever told to us that she would have to be in an open recruitment."

Fietz said Cooper is weighing her options, including whether to sue the county for wrongful termination.

"It's always been an option," Fietz said. "But neither us (attorneys) nor Amy are hot-headed. We proceed cautiously and carefully in our decisions."

Woodside could not be reached for comment.

Other county officials indicated there was never any doubt that hiring a new director for animal care would require a competitive process because the position is subject to civil service rules.

"This is the standard practice for a director of a program of this nature," said Rita Scardaci, director of the county's Health Services Department.

She will oversee the selection after county supervisors in September voted to transfer control of the animal care division to her department.

That transfer was sparked by Agricultural Commissioner Cathy Neville's decision to fire Cooper on July 12, two days before Cooper's yearlong probationary status was to expire.

Neville has never publicly explained why she took the action, which generated widespread protest among animal control employees and officials at other animal welfare agencies.

Nearly every animal care employee submitted letters to supervisors in which they demanded Cooper's reinstatement. Members of the public expressed similar sentiment when the subject of animal care came before the board.

Critics said the transfer of control did not address their contention that Neville fired Cooper without cause and that she should be brought back.

Fietz said he and Woodside agreed to wait until after supervisors moved animal care before making any formal decisions, as Cooper's interest in returning hinged on her not having to work for Neville again.

Then last week, Fietz said Woodside informed him that Cooper would have to apply for her old job just like anyone else.

Jennifer Murray, the county's interim assistant human resources director, also informed Cooper via a letter to Fietz on Tuesday that a 2009 list of applicants generated when Cooper originally sought the job was being abolished.

That means Cooper would have to go through the process as if she never had the job before.

"We're disappointed, but at the same time, we leave room for the fact that perhaps the change could be the result of county guidelines, in terms of it being a new position or an open position in a new department," Fietz said.

Officials hope to begin the recruitment by the end of the month and offer the job to someone by mid-February.

You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 521-5336 or derek.moore@pressdemocrat.com

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