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THURSDAY, MAY 10, 2007

Mayor, council call for ambulance pact

By Chris Paschenko · 340-2442

After a five-month delay, Decatur Mayor Don Kyle and a City Council majority are calling for city attorneys to finalize an ambulance contract.

A seven-member panel of the city’s Emergency Medical Services Committee recommended in November that Decatur switch ambulance services after six companies, including the current provider, competed for the five-year contract.

The council has yet to discuss the contract, a request-for-proposal that calls for only one ambulance provider to service Decatur and its three-mile police jurisdiction.

City Attorney Herman Marks requested and the council canceled an April 30 work session on the matter, but Kyle said this week he would like to see the contract finalized.

“There have been two or three meetings set and then canceled,” Kyle said. “It revolves around a legal impasse. ... Either there has been poor legal review from the outset on the existing ordinance or a considerable amount of indecision on the back end after the RFP has been completed.”

Councilman Gary Hammon was critical of the delay before a Monday council meeting.

“I find it ridiculous we don’t have an ambulance proposal on the books yet,” Hammon said.

Councilman Ronny Russell said he is “definitely not happy about the delay. Something should have already been received by now.”

Although Councilmen David Bolding and Ray Metzger would prefer a work session on the matter soon, both are reserved about the process of choosing the city’s next ambulance provider.

Bolding questioned whether Care Ambulance of Alabama, the panel's overwhelming choice to replace Decatur EMS, would live up to the expectations of providing new trucks and equipment.

"Just last August, we were told Decatur EMS was doing a great job, and now they want us to change carriers?" Bolding said. "I don't want to be sold a bill of goods that they don't live up to. I'd like to know they'll do what they say they'll do."

Metzger favors competition among providers, something the EMS Committee is reluctant to recommend, saying the number of emergency and hospital-transport calls isn't sufficient to support more than one service.

"When there's competition, the customer gets better service," Metzger said.

Council President Billy Jackson sided with Marks.

"I'm not dissatisfied" with the delay, Jackson said. "We need to do what's best for the city, and we have to follow the lead of the legal department and the (EMS) Committee."

Kyle agreed that the council must rely on sound legal advice.

"But I think too much time has passed, and it's time to make a good legal decision and move forward," Kyle said.

Although Barney Lovelace, attorney for Decatur EMS, hasn't specifically mentioned the possibility of litigation if the council removes his client, he has said that the current contract and one under consideration are conflicting.

The current contract doesn't limit the number of competing companies, and the RFP calls for only one provider.

Removing the current provider would violate Decatur EMS' rights, Lovelace has said.

Jackson said the reason for the delay is not the result of apprehension over litigation, but Kyle said it's time for the legal department to take a stand on the matter.

Kyle also said the current provider willingly participated in the RFP competition and had no reservations about the process until it finished last among six competitors.

"I believe the city operated in good faith to put out the RFP," Kyle said. "And I believe we should get down to the business of providing the best sole provider. If it's not logistically sound, then we need to get a legalistically sound answer, so we can move forward."

The current contract does provide for the removal of an ambulance service, but Kyle said it seems like the city has been negotiating the matter before taking a stance on the new contract.

"Either there is room for negotiation or there is not," he said.

"We've got to move or we're just treading water."

When questioned about the new contract after Monday's council meeting, Marks declined to discuss specifics on the reason for the delay, but he said he was optimistic the RFP would be ready for council review soon.

"I'll bring the proposal to them within the next two weeks," Marks said. "The delay has been justified. It's taken longer than anticipated, but what we have are issues that need to be addressed."

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