By Nancy Lindsey
The topic of emergency medical services (EMS) wasn’t on the board agenda Monday, but the ongoing controversy dominated yet another meeting of the Patrick County Board of Supervisors.
The conclusion of a lot of discussion was approval of a motion by Blue Ridge District Supervisor Karl Weiss that Steve Allen, emergency management coordinator, be invited to be present when any issue involving EMS comes before the board of supervisors.
The vote was 3-2, with Smith River District Supervisor Crystal Harris and Peters Creek District Supervisor Rickie Fulcher voting with Weiss. Mayo River District Supervisor Lock Boyce and Dan River District Supervisor Roger Hayden, board chairman, voted against the motion.
The topic was first addressed when Boyce announced that LifeCare Medical Transports, which was scheduled to give a presentation, would not be appearing that night.
When other board members asked why the company canceled, Boyce said it was “getting together a proposal to present to the supervisors.”
LifeCare is acting as a backup responder for emergency calls and the town of Stuart, Boyce said, but it would not be able to “respond to calls anywhere else.”
Weiss asked Boyce when he found out LifeCare would not be making a presentation. Boyce said it was Monday afternoon.
Weiss said there were representatives from Meadows of Dan, Vesta and Ararat who came to hear the presentation.
The board voted to approve the amended agenda, with Weiss voting against it.
During the public comment session, Bill Moore of Woolwine kept the topic rolling by asking the board if it had a feasibility study or operational plan for the proposed paid EMS program.
Taxpayers deserve to know how much the service will cost the county, how it will be staffed, and if it will be available 24/7, Moore said. He said the county budget’s expenditures had exceeded revenues the past three years.
Crystal Webb of Meadows of Dan said she was speaking from her heart in asking the board to remember the needs of all parts of the county, to “put all personal agendas aside” and to work together for the benefit of all the citizens.
Harris said the feasibility study was done about two years ago by a committee of rescue squad members, but was rejected by the board.
Weiss said he had a copy of the plan, which estimated the cost of providing around-the-clock emergency coverage at $429,000 and was designed to back up the volunteers’ responses. People spent a lot of time and hard work developing the plan, he said, but it did not have the support of the whole board.
Weiss said the rescue members shouldn’t be treated like a business but like fellow citizens whose goal is to save people’s lives. The board doesn’t make other county departments go through so much scrutiny, he said, mentioning the transport station and recreation department as examples.
“How do we put a price on somebody’s life?” Weiss asked.
Hayden agreed with Moore about the deficit budget and said the county’s new real estate tax rate is “the highest rate around here.” He said the county has not yet recovered from the 2008 recession and the loss of manufacturing jobs.
“I don’t think a feasibility study is a bad idea, but I don’t know how we’d pay for it,” Hayden said. He said all county rescue squads have been asked to provide information about their problems and recommendations for solving them, to be discussed at the July 11 meeting.
Weiss made his motion at that point. “Any emergency medical services business that comes before the county, Steve Allen is the one in that business and should be included from day one,” he said.
Harris seconded the motion. “It’s right that he be involved from the time it’s initiated,” she said.
Boyce retorted angrily and loudly. “If you think you’re in a position to tell me who I can talk to, you’ve got another think coming,” he said. “I have the right to talk to anybody in the county anytime I want to, anywhere I want to.”
Boyce said some rescue squad volunteers “have a big problem with Mr. Allen. He uses them like a punching bag…He’s been hostile and loud and scary. He scares the volunteers.”
The volunteers also don’t like the “silly after-action reports” or the check-off tests, which he said are not required by the state.
Boyce said the idea of a paid EMS system has not been carefully analyzed and that it doesn’t make sense for a paid squad to sit and wait for two or three calls a week, the amount some smaller squads typically get.
Allen has been pushing the idea of a paid service since he first came to the county, Boyce said, and he doesn’t plan to react favorably to “emotional pleas from guys with vested interests.”
Weiss went back to his motion. “If anything (EMS) comes to the county, Steve Allen should be involved,” he said.
“It’s not professional to bash someone who’s not here,” Harris said. She said the board wouldn’t discuss housing construction with the board without input from Jason Brown, building inspector, or tourism without Joseph Quesenberry, tourism director, being present, so why should it address EMS issues without Allen?
“If we have any EMS business to come before the board, Steve Allen needs to be there,” Fulcher said. “He shouldn’t be left out of the loop.” However, Fulcher said, that doesn’t mean Allen has to be present if individual board members are talking at rescue squad meetings.
“If it’s official county business, Mr. Allen should be involved,” County Attorney Alan Black said.
Boyce said he had the right to go to a squad meeting without having to notify Allen.
“You are not the county,” Black said. “You can talk to anybody you want to, but my interpretation is that when EMS business becomes county business, Mr. Allen should be included.”
Black said his initial reaction to Weiss’s motion was that it was “a little vague,” but Fulcher’s comments clarified the motion’s intent. “I think it’s a valid motion,” Black said.
Weiss’s motion passed, 3-2.
Boyce said he took an oath swearing to uphold the U.S. Constitution, which includes the First Amendment and encompasses the right to peacefully assemble. This motion violates the Constitution, he said. Hayden agreed.
“I think it’s in violation of the First Amendment,” Boyce said.
“I think it’s the worst ordinance this board ever passed,” Hayden said.
In other matters, the board met in executive session with the Patrick County Economic Development Authority to discuss the so-called “special project.”
No action was taken and no explanations were given after the closed session. Both boards voted to adjourn.
By Nancy Lindsey
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