Columbia County EMS - The county ranking committee meets - Union disqualified
Columbia County, FL (Posted March 02, 2011 07:35 am / Photos added March 2, 2011 09:53 pm)
The ranking committee at the table. Clockwise: in white shirt, Fire Chief - Trey Atkinson, Purchasing Dir - Ben Scott; arms crossed, CM - Dale Williams, EMS Director - Rusty Noah; Senior Staff Asst. - David Krause. Along the wall, left to right, Mark Kazmerski, Toby Witt, Lance Hill.
After 30 plus years, the strain is showing on County Manager, Dale Williams.
Yesterday morning, Columbia County's EMS qualifications ranking committee met to rank the four responders to replace the County's EMS ambulance service. The four responders, in the order of their rankings were: Lifeguard Ambulance; Century Ambulance; Rural Metro Corporation; Columbia County EMS Association. The Columbia County EMS Association, are the folks that have been providing EMS service to the county for twenty years.
Ben Scott, Columbia County's Purchasing Director, began the discussion by telling the group that he did not score the Columbia County EMS Association, [the EMS Union] because he considered them nonresponsive.
County Manager, Dale Williams, said he did not score them for the same reason.
Fire Chief, Trey Atkinson said, "I scored them very low because of the nonresponsive items."
Mr. Scott explained: "The only thing we're doing here today is making a recommendation of our final ranking... The County Commission will make the final decision regarding the ranking and is under no obligation to accept the findings of the ranking committee."
Your reporter asked: "Could they authorize and direct you to negotiate with the top two?"
County Manager (CM) Dale Williams: "I'm assuming that they could."
CM Williams explained the process this way: "They're selling themselves [the respondents] based on their qualifications, initially. Now it's our job to sit down with them and try and negotiate a contract. If we're successful, that would be the end of it. We would contract and move forward. If we don't feel that we're successful then we would move to the second ranked firm."
WCJB cub reporter, Alexandra Cowley, listens to the rankings.
The reporter from Channel 20 asked the County Manager why the folks representing the union were not considered and if they were given the opportunity to submit the correct information.
CM Williams answered: "I don't think that they have the ability at this stage to even go back, regroup and submit what's needed. The time has come and gone for the responses unless we are directed to do otherwise. We are dealing with three companies at this point."
CM Williams explained that he didn't know how long the negotiations would take. "I don't know if this process will take two weeks or two months."
Mark Kazmerski, a former County Commission candidate, EMS expert and flight medic attended the meeting and weighed in.
The Observer: "Do you think they should privatize EMS?"
Mr. Kazmerski: "Someone has an ax to grind with EMS. Someone on that board has an ax to grind."
The Observer: "Who do you think it is?"
Kazmerski: "[Commissioners] Jody Dupree and Stephen Bailey."
Kazmerski: "They are using this as a pawn to continue their battle with the city."
Twenty-year and recently retired Columbia County EMS veteran, Wayne Wingate, was suspicious about the County leasing its equipment.
He told the Observer: "I've never heard of the County leasing anything before."
Mr. Wingate continued: "This is more bickering between the County and the City, so the County can specifically leave out the city limits in the service area. Then they want to dictate to the city how they can run their EMS."
The popular consensus is that instead of request for qualifications, the County should have asked for a request for proposals. If the County knew what they were looking for in the first place, they could have done it. The fact that the County is still not sure what it wants to do made it necessary to begin the process of looking for a private ambulance company, who could suggest to them what needed to be done.
EMS expert Toby Witt: "It's common sense. If you truly want to do this to save money, you want to do a request for proposals."
Lance Hill, the EMS union president, said that he and the union attorneys are working on a response to the whole situation, including the County claiming that their filing was unresponsive. The County is trying to kill two birds with one stone. They are continuing their battle with the city and trying to bust the union at the same time.
The County has yet to sit down at the table and negotiate, in good faith, with either the EMS Union or Lake City.
Lake City's wait and see attitude is disappointing many, with many city residents wondering if they are going to have ambulance service and if the city is going to take a pro active position, or any position.