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The Levy County Commission — especially Commissioners John Meeks, Ryan Bell and Chad Johnson — have a message for Chiefland about ALS non-transport: Next week's election is not driving the decision to implement it.
In fact, while attacking press reports that indicate otherwise, the commissioners want residents to know they are moving ahead with implementing the Advanced Life Support non-transport (ALS) not just for Chiefland, but for the whole county.
The commissioners' comments came at the end of a meeting that opened with a question from civic activist Renate Cannon about a newspaper article that said fire and emergency medical service assessment money was being used for ALS trucks. Cannon said she was under the impression the two funds could not be mixed. “Is that legal?” she asked.
County Attorney Anne Bast Brown said money from both funds could be used if the vehicle was used in a first responder capacity — which includes fire as well as medical emergencies. She also cautioned that Cannon should not “rely on the newspaper for what the trucks are used for.”
Commission Chair Ryan Bell, who is up for re-election in District 4 on Tuesday, cited the County Public Safety Complex, which houses the county fire and EMS agencies, as an example of a shared project using money from both funds.
But the money issue was not what got the commissioners riled. It was press reports that the Chiefland City Commission voiced displeasure at the slow pace of getting ALS for Chiefland Fire Rescue.
“It pains me to bring this up but I feel it's necessary,” said Commissioner John Meeks (R-District 1) “We have stood back and idly taken jabs from Chiefland.”
He said, “I take offense to this.“ While he later apologized for being “ so blunt and frank,” he tore it up.
Meeks said he took issue with Chiefland officials “who would go so far in the media outlets to say this is an election-driven decision.
“There are three of us here (not up for election) and three of us is all it takes to do this.”
Meeks said Chiefland needed to consider that the makeup of the commission could change with the outcome of the primary election on Tuesday.
“I think it's very unfair,” Meeks said. “I think this board has been painted in a negative light.”
Meeks laid the blame on Chiefland's doorstep. “If they did their homework and got their ducks in a row” the project could be done.
“Early on when we had our workshop we made a simple request: Tell us who was going to administer this?” Meeks said because Chiefland Fire Chief James Harris is not a paramedic he cannot administer the program. “He could not administer narcotics. He could not order them. And we have not received a list of who can do it as a full-time paramedic.”
The Drug Enforcement Administration license requires a paramedic be in charge of the drug supply that would be used in EMS and ALS non transport.
Meeks said the county has not heard whether Chiefland is going to fund this program.
“The county is not putting up roadblocks. The county is doing their due diligence.”
He said the two commissioners seeking re-election could “go waving the bloody shirt seeking votes and seeking favor. But, no, they chose the right path to go slow to do it diligently.”
Noting the city celebrated its centennial last year, “Chiefland has been without it for 101 years and I don't see where 6 months is going to make a difference.”
He cited Chiefland's disagreement with the EMS medical directors, whose licenses are on the line for the EMS and ALS service, by claiming it could meet state minimum requirements instead of meeting the higher exemplary level of care. “Now Chiefland is balking with that. I take issue with that.”
Meeks closed noting that the commission is a team working together, an item hit on by one reporter (from another publication) in attendance.
But it was Bell who accused the reporter of misconstruing his statements in previous stories, who took up that argument. “It's an operational team.”
“I don't want to be taken out of context one more time,” Bell said.
“We're a team for Levy County, but we stand individually in our decisions.” Bell even said he had disagreements with fellow commissioner Danny Stevens (R-District 5).
Commissioner Chad Johnson, who is also up for re-election to District 2 on Tuesday, added that the term team is “recognizing this as a board that works together, focused on conducting the business of the constituents of Levy County.”
Bell said, “Everyone understood there was a cry from the public, particularly 50 vocal members” for ALS non-transport service in Chiefland.
“But a life in Chiefland is worth no more than anyone else in the county. I agree life is priceless, but there is a cost to every service.”
Later Bell said, “So if we implement this, it is not going to be a Chiefland program. It's going to be a county-wide program.”
As for timing, Bell said, “This is not an election-driven problem ― project.”
He said the commission is being thorough because “Once you start that level of service for the public you can't stop.”
He said last week's meeting with Chiefland officials was “a very good, positive meeting” and he commended newly hired City Manager Mary Ellzey for her work on the project.
“But the hurdle we faced as free is truly not free,” he said referring to some Chiefland officials' statements that the new service could be provided at no cost to Chiefland. The commission has said it would do a cost share on an $11,000 study of the assessments for providing the service.
Johnson said one of his favorite sayings would apply to the situation, “To fail to plan is to plan to fail. What we're looking for is not a haphazard plan.” He said the commission did not want to implement the service and have the responders “show up and be grossly under-tasked.”
Bell said, “If you want to be a roadblock, run it in the paper or you can get on the train” and make it happen. “Sometimes controversy sells papers, but don't lose sight of our goal for that cause.”
• To read the Citizen editorial "The Public understands opinion driven by self interest," click here
• To read the story on Chiefland's claim of "roadblocking" click here
• To read the story on the workshop with Levy County and Chiefland officials, click here