Amidst the presence of two television crews at the Clare County Building on Wednesday, the Independent Citizens for Ambulance & Rescue Efficiency (I.C.A.R.E.) presented a report packet to the County Commissioners during the Public Comment portion of the Board’s regular meeting.
When questioned why they were not put on the Board’s agenda as they had requested, Chairperson Don David responded, in part, “You were never on the agenda because I didn’t approve it.”
Citizens from seven northern townships within the County and the City of Harrison have, for months, been petitioning Commissioners to wade past questions of responsibilities and legalities to act on behalf of United Rescue Ambulance Service – the local ambulance service that has, for decades, exclusively serviced the County’s northern townships.
The Commissioners, at the advice of legal counsel, allowed the territorial agreement to expire. Since that time, United Rescue supporters have repeatedly come before the Board to complain about what they felt was the infringement of Mobile Medical Response – the ambulance company that exclusively serviced the southern portion of Clare County via that agreement – on United Rescue’s turf.
The first of many issues involved the dispute that many northern residents had purchased United Rescue subscriptions and, when Central Dispatch sent an MMR ambulance, MMR did not honor United’s subscription. Residents wanted to be able to choose the ambulance service for which they had purchased a subscription.
The next complaint was that MMR’s ambulances were flooding the northern townships and the City of Harrison, and residents felt that move was an attempt to drive United Rescue out of business.
The next complaint was that Central Dispatch was giving MMR preferential treatment in how often they dispatched MMR’s ambulances as opposed to United Rescue’s. In response to these issues, the Board of Commissioners formed an Ambulance Committee to address the residents’ concerns.
Meanwhile, the County’s Medical Control Authority Board, which had been somewhat dormant, began meeting more frequently. It is the Authority Board’s purview to establish dispatch and ambulance policies. The Commissioner’s Ambulance Committee quit meeting when United Rescue brought a lawsuit against Clare County and MMR.
The County was dismissed from the lawsuit by the judge in the case, because it was determined Central Dispatch followed the law that states they must send the closest ambulance. The suit against MMR is still pending.
Residents’ complaints did not stop with the lawsuit. Case after case was brought before the Commission complaining of preferential dispatching of MMR’s ambulances, slow response times, and lost ambulances. The report that I.C.A.R.E. presented to the Board Wednesday outlined several of these complaints in detail, plus included an investigative report by WNEM TV5 on the alleged “fudging” of MMR’s response times.
The Board of Commissioners recently disbanded the Ambulance Committee and voted at Wednesday’s meeting to replace it with a Central Dispatch Committee. Commissioner Jim Gelios, who also sits on the Medical Control Authority Board, explained, “We feel it’s more a dispatch problem than an ambulance problem.” One of I.C.A.R.E.’s complaints is that Clare County’s 911 Central Dispatch does not actually dispatch MMR’s ambulances; they must call MMR’s dispatch center in Saginaw, and the Saginaw center then dispatches MMR’s ambulances.
One of the citizens speaking on behalf of I.C.A.R.E., Judy Weber, had personal experience with what she felt was an excessively slow response time to her 911 call. “Many of these incidents, like my husband Paul’s, ended in death,” Weber told the Board. I.C.A.R.E.’s report stated, “We realize not all, and maybe not any, of the deaths could have been avoided. We will never know. We simply want to give the residents, our neighbors, our families, the fighting chance that goes along with prompt emergency response.” “I’m praying every day that God will protect the families of Clare County,” Weber continued, “Something is very wrong.”
MMR Representative Jason MacDonald spoke next, expressing his “sincere condolences” to Mrs. Weber on the death of her husband. MacDonald continued, “There was nothing remarkable and the responses were appropriate,” adding, “Let me assure you, the [service we provide] in Clare County is sound.”
Attorney and resident Ghazey Aleck also addressed the Board. “I know there’s two sides to every story, and I can appreciate that,” Aleck said, “I don’t know if there’s a problem or if there’s not, but the people need to know they can trust their 911 service.”
Resident Theresa Fox questioned who was in charge: the Board of Commissioners or the Medical Control Authority Board. Chairperson David replied, “Keith Yats.” Yats is the Director of 911 Central Dispatch, and did not attend Wednesday’s meeting.
Commissioner Gelios commented that he intended to get to the bottom of the issues brought before the Dispatch Committee, including the legality of creating a policy that would maintain control of ambulances from dispatch time to arrival time.
In another matter, Commissioners received the official report from Prosecuting Attorney Michelle Ambrozaitis regarding the allegation that members of the Board had violated the Open Meetings Act. The suspected violation came about when Chairperson David attended a Hamilton Township meeting, and stated that he intended to remove the title and authority of Controller from the County’s Administrator/Controller Tracy Byard, and indicated that he knew he had the votes to ensure that this change would pass at the next County Board meeting.
Ambrozaitis concluded in her report, “The OMA was not violated in this instance. The law is very clear that board members may individually poll other members of the board to determine how that individual may vote on a particular issue. This is exactly what Chairperson David did in this matter.” The report also stated that David did not contact Commissioners Lynn Grim or Karen Lipovsky “because he already believed they would vote against his proposal.”
The complaint was brought by William Coon, after a conversation with Lipovsky regarding the vote to strip Byard of her Controller title. Coon believed that individual polling or meetings between Commissioners was a violation of the OMA, and he contacted his son, a detective with the Clare County Sheriff’s Department, who began the investigation. Michigan State Police Sergeant Benn took over the investigation, and after reviewing tapes of Detective Coon’s interviews and interviewing Chairperson David and William Coon, turned his findings over to Ambrozaitis.
Benn’s report stated that William Coon “never wished for any prosecution in this matter; he just simply did not want county business conducted in private,” and that Mr. Coon indicated that, “in his opinion there is no need for the investigation to continue.” Benn then closed the investigation, and Ambrozaitis, after reviewing his report, determined that neither Chairperson David nor any other Commissioners implicated in the investigation had committed any violation of the OMA.
Payables, payroll moved to Clerk
Commissioners at Wednesday’s meeting also chose to tackle another recurring issue: in which office does Payroll and Accounts Payable belong if Byard no longer has the title or authority of Controller and the Board voted to change check signing duties from Byard and the Treasurer to the Clerk and the Treasurer?
Commissioners defeated the motion to move those two functions to the Clerk’s Office at their January 4, 2012 meeting, by a vote of 6-1. Commissioner Jack Kleinhardt was the lone “aye” vote.
At Wednesday’s meeting, however, the vote to move Payroll and Accounts Payable to the Clerk’s Office had a different outcome. After discussion, the first motion – to leave those functions in the Administrator’s Office – failed by a vote of 3-4, with Commissioners Strouse, Gelios, Kleinhardt and David casting the dissenting votes.
After it was noted that the vote did not determine where Accounts Payable and Payroll should be moved, the Board voted 5-2 in favor of moving those functions to the Clerk’s Office. Commissioners Grim and Lipovsky cast the dissenting votes.
It is Board policy that they may reconsider a previous vote if those members who prevailed in the previous vote make the motion to reconsider. In this case, Wednesday’s motion was made by Commissioner Strouse and seconded by Commissioner Kleinhardt to move Payroll and Accounts Payable to the Clerk’s Office. Since Kleinhardt cast a vote that “lost” on January 4th, it may be a violation of Board policy for him to second a motion that would, in effect, reconsider the matter.
Commissioner Grim, who adamantly supported keeping Payroll and Accounts Payable in the Administrator’s Office so that Byard would “have the tools to do the budget,” made a motion to have the budget prepared by the Clerk. Lipovsky seconded the motion, but it failed, 2-5, with Grim and Lipovsky casting the only “aye” votes.
In other business at Wednesday’s meeting, the BOC:
*unanimously approved the Memorandum of Agreement between Emergency Management and Clare County Transit that would allow citizen transport in a disaster.
*approved the Prisoner Transport and Jail Services Agreement between Clare and Wexford counties, with Board chair to sign following written opinion by County attorney.
*approved the formation of a Central Dispatch Committee.
*approved the Mutual Referral Agreement between Clare County and Listening Ear, with Board chair to sign.
*approved expenditures for the month of January 2012 in the amount of $2,719,293.35 with the General Fund expenditures totaling $984,942.66.