The Washington County Commissioners voted 3-0 at their regular meeting Tuesday to have their attorney change the ordinance structuring the Washington County Ambulance Board to include all three of its members – Phil Marshall, Todd Ewen and Rick Roberts.
Marshall is the President of both the Board of Commissioners and Ambulance Board. He was the sole commissioner member.
Other Ambulance Board members include Washington County Council President Karen Wischmeier, who also serves as the ambulance board vice-president, Council member Rondale Brishaber and ambulance services director Nick Oleck and Washington County Health Officer Dr. Jeff Morgan, who are both non-voting members.
Attorney Justin Howard serves as both the legal counsel for the commissioners as well as the ambulance board. He was asked at the last commissioners’ meeting to draft an ordinance that amended the composition of the ambulance board.
Stephanie Yager, of the Indiana Association of County Commissioners, said typically all members of a board cannot attend meetings together unless specifically written in an ordinance.
“In this case, with the ordinance re-written, then all three members of the Board of Commissioners will serve as members of the ambulance board and since that meeting is open to the public and legally advertised, then it is proper,” Yager said.
“Despite their being on the board, and with two members of the county council also serving on the board, the full County Council is still the fiscal body of the county and can vote to control the budget. It should be a partnership between the commissioners and the council.”
However, Wischmeier objected to the addition of Ewen and Roberts and instead sought to have a medical officer added to the board with voting powers.
Amy McClellan Whistler, a Family Nurse Practioner with LifeSpring Health Systems, told the board Tuesday morning that despite Morgan being on the board, he doesn’t attend meetings.
“That’s true,” Marshall said. “Unless we need him. We call the board of health and the board of health contacts him for the answer [to questions we have].”
Ewen said he considered Oleck as the medical representative of the board.
Whistler countered that the medical representative on the board doesn’t have a vote.
“If I’ve been told correctly, I don’t know of any instance where anyone on the board has gone against recommendations or the wishes of the ambulance director,” Ewen said. “I don’t think there have been any instances where the board went against what the director recommended.”
“What it comes down to is that everybody thinks the three commissioners are going to outrun the two council members and that’s not true,” he said. “It still comes back to our job as the commissioners to take care of the taxpayer and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Ewen said it would help with the commissioners all on the board so that everyone would hear first hand and be able to better spread the work between them.
Both Wischeimer and Whistler pointed out that recent media reports had noted there wasn’t sufficient communication between the ambulance board and the commissioners.
Whistler questioned how many meetings Ewen and Roberts had been to.
“We can’t go to the meetings,” said Roberts, because there would be a majority of the board of commissioners there, which would constitute a meeting that would not have been publicized.
Ewen said, “This situation in my opinion is being blown totally out of proportion. I’m getting the impression that for some reason, we’re some sort of evil people wanting to do in the ambulance service. The last time I checked we’re all residents of Washington County. That this is some kind of power grab or take over of the ambulance service. Honestly, it’s wearing me out. There’s an old saying that many hands make the workload less. I have watched from a distance and heard bits and pieces. I’ve watched Karen and Phil work very very hard in making this ambulance service what it is. And Rondale. They’ve made some good decisions. The biggest decision was to hire a new director and he’s doing a fabulous job. We’re headed in the right direction. There’s lots of work to be done.”
Ewen said there were a lot of growing pains with the ambulance service.
“We can always do a little bit better,” Ewen said. “I honestly believe it’s in the best interest of the county to increase the size of the board to help distribute the burden of the work a little bit more. And maybe if we do that, this hearsay and gossip and he said and she said will cease because of the parties involved =– everyone will have their eyes open as to what is going on with the money. We have put hundreds of thousands of dollars when we moved to that new building. Remodeled it. Based on what the employees felt like what they wanted and needed. There will always be times when you don’t get things exactly right, but it’s a very good facility. We try to keep the ambulances up. Everyone is concerned about the health and welfare and safety of everyone in Washington county. There is a sense of pride in saying this is the Washington County Ambulance Service…we’re not subcontracting out to someone else. But we can all agree 100 percent that we want the Washington County Ambulance Service to remain viable and we don’t want to subcontract it out and then we lose control and we don’t have any control over prices or service….it kinda makes me feel a little bit better and peace of mind that the ambulance employees are people I know and those that know the county roads… I feel a little better and sleep a little better that these are local people who have a vested interest in my county and my life.”
Wischmeier was upset over one of the commissioners calling other county employees to get answers instead of calling Director Oleck.
“I’m waiting for an answer,” she said. “Continually, all I get are calls about rumor after rumor after rumor about one said commissioner who can’t pick up the phone and call the ambulance director himself but calls other employees there, which creates a hostile work environment. So if it hasn’t gotten any better then, it sure as hell isn’t going to get any better when you step on the board.”
The board and Oleck oversee a budget that has increased from $1.1 million in 2019 to $1.5 million in 2020.
Marshall said although the council is in charge of the fiscal situation for the county, the commissioners are in charge of the various departments.
“We are going to be the ones to catch all the ‘H’ when something goes wrong,” he said. “And I feel like the commissioners need to be represented. I’d like to have both of the commissioners on the board to know everything about it. I feel like it would be the best decision for the county. We started this…[the ambulance board] wasn’t there. And I did….I started with Troy Nicholson…went to Scott…We all agree that Nick has done an outstanding job. You asked me in the budget [meetings] how I felt about it. I said it was a lot of money when it was $1.1 [million]…My concern has always been the return of the investment for the taxpayer of the county.”
Marshall said the ambulance service has had ups and downs.
“We’ve turned around…We’ve progressed forward as we’ve gone ahead. Now, I’m not saying we’ve done an outstanding job but we’ve tried to provide the best service for this county we could do,” said Marshall. “We’ve tried to be responsible to the taxpayer. We knew we were going to foot the bill to provide healthcare and emergency services to the county. Now, I at no time had ever tried to take anything away from Troy, Scott or Nick. I will do my darndest to make sure we continue on.”
Oleck addressed the disconnection.
“I think a lot of these rumors and issues are starting because I’m not the one that’s being asked these questions,” he told the board. “And you’re getting false information. That’s why I don’t have faith in this. If you can’t approach me, how am I supposed to trust you? I’ve done nothing but bust my butt since I’ve been here.”
Oleck said in his five months as director, the board has seen “something that should have taken a year to take place.”
“There is trust between each one of us,” Oleck said referring to his department. “But if you can’t talk to me and you go behind my back to get [answers to questions] because you don’t think I’m going to get it to you, that’s why I don’t have faith.”
Ewen made a motion to expand the commissioner’s presence on the ambulance board. Roberts seconded the motion and it passed 3-0.
Ewen said he had approached a local contractor to get quotes on window repairs at the courthouse.
“We have lots of windows in this courthouse,” said Ewen. “Some of them are in dire need of repair. It will have to be window by window. We won’t do all of them. Most of them are in really good shape for the shape of the structure. We do have some that are showing some deterioration and rotting out that need some attention.”
Ewen said he would bring more information back in September.
County highway superintendent Rick Graves reported that 44.3 of paving is expected to be completed this year.
“2020 has not been exactly an ideal,” said Graves. “19.7 miles have been completed in county paving…2.1 miles of Community Crossing paving with 4.6 miles of county road paving ready to be paved. That will be a total of 44.3 miles. Last year was the record at 45 miles. I think that’s pretty good.”
Ewen also explained that some additional hours worked in the health department could be paid for through the federal CARES Act funding for Covid-19.
The next meeting will be Tuesday, Sept. 1