A New BCEMS Advisory Board
How Long Can It Last?
by Shari Dovale
The Bonner County Commissioners have been working on a way to make over the Bonner County EMS (BCEMS) system. This has been going on behind the scenes for months, probably since at least June 2018. However, the employees of BCEMS, and the public in general, did not hear about it until December. They say they were “blind-sided”.
When Commissioner Dan McDonald was asked about these changes in December 2018, he reassuringly said that there was nothing wrong with the current system. The Commissioners were just looking to improve upon it.
McDonald also stated that all of the “behind-the-scenes” negotiations were done in executive session because it all involved personnel matters.
However, McDonald admitted that the Commissioners began looking into improving the EMS system independently several months ago, then decided to have an executive session under “hiring” to discuss where they wanted to go with it, and invited people in to speak with them.
Some of it was, obviously, personnel matters, but changing the entire system from public and county-run to a private entity? It sounded to many folks that it was operational issues being discussed in executive session.
Boundary Ambulance Service is currently headed up by Jeff Lindsey. This is the private non-profit that contracts with Boundary County for their ambulance service. They are also the organization behind North Valley EMS.
Lindsey was offered the position of BCEMS Interim Director in the latter part of November, however, by mid-December, Lindsey was saying that, though the Bonner County officials had planned to wait to install him, they could not wait any longer.
Taken from the December 17th minutes of the Boundary County Ambulance Service District Governing Board:
Chief Lindsey said the understanding is that Boundary Ambulance Service will work on a contract with Bonner County and [they] will be able to work with both counties.
Chief Lindsey also said that the idea would be to keep a unit at the South Boundary station 24 hours a day, seven days per week, all year long and EMS coverage can be provided to both the north end of Bonner County and the southern end of Boundary County from this location.
Chief Lindsey said the EMS service for Bonner County will be operating under the name North Valley EMS and he added that nothing is certain at this point as he is just a part-time interim position trying to get things in order.
Well, it all seemed like a done deal in December, based on Lindsey’s statements. However, some of these statements are in direct contradiction to what the Bonner County Commissioners have said.
Interview with Commissioner Dan McDonald on the same day, December 17th:
Questions came from all over. So many, in fact, that the Bonner County Commissioners held an “informational” meeting in January. They stressed that the meeting was not classified as a public meeting as it was only informational. They would allow everyone the chance to comment, but they would not answer questions.
There were multiple questions on the BCEMS Advisory Council (AC). Most knew of the council and it’s function to advise the BOCC on operational issues for BCEMS. As these changes seemed to be more along the lines of operational issues, everyone asked why the AC had not been consulted.
This brought on several weeks worth of whirlwind comments.
The stakeholders, groups and organizations that are a part of BCEMS, and their representatives felt shut out by the Commissioners apparent lack of transparency, or concern, for their employees. They felt that they should have been better respected by the Commissioners talking to them from the beginning, and not letting them find out about it through an article in local print.
They decided to call a special meeting of the AC, based on the rules set down in the bylaws posted on the BOCC website. (These bylaws were removed from the website in late January.)
Every Action has an Equal and Opposite Reaction
The current Board of County Commissioners were not pleased with the special meeting held on February 13th. Calling it an “illegal” and “illegitimate” meeting, the loudest voice was Commissioner Dan McDonald, who has seemed to get his knickers in a twist over the whole issue.
He has publicly denounced the group and their efforts. Insisting that the Commissioners are the only ones that can call a meeting of this kind.
Additionally, he says that the AC put themselves into an “Ad Hoc” status, yet also claims that they cannot do anything without the Commissioners approval. This would seem to include their current status.
When McDonald was asked about the prior Commissioners approval of the AC, McDonald said, “Any decisions made by previous Commissioners are not binding by future boards.”
This just adds to the confusion of the citizens throughout the county.
It seems that the Commissioners do not intend to consider input from citizens or stakeholders alike. They are moving forward with their reorganization, regardless of the questions that keep coming up.
The next BOCC meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Feb 26th at 9am. On the posted agenda is an action item:
Discussion/Decision Regarding Repeal/Replacement of Resolution 05 -01, Establishment of the Bonner County EMS Advisory Council; Resolution
McDonald says they will “straighten this all out” with this action item. It appears to be intended to discard the old rules in favor of new ones.
The BOCC intends to set up an entirely new AC board with their new Chief, Jeff Lindsey, as the Chairman. They will hand pick a few people to sit on the board, with former members removed from the AC.
Is this just placating by the Commissioners? Revamping the Advisory Council means nothing as they have stressed – repeatedly – that it is only advisory anyway. They do not have to listen to them, or consider their recommendations.
And let’s not forget the very limited term they will have. If the proposed plans to hand everything over to North Valley EMS comes to fruition soon, this board will quickly become obsolete.
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