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Unicoi County ambulance contract back up for discussion

Sue Guinn Legg • Jan 28, 2019 at 9:09 PM

ERWIN — Is Unicoi County bound by a draft contract with MedicOne Medical Response approved by the County Commission in December?

And will the county face litigation if the commission rescinds its December vote and puts the contract back up for bid?

Those questions and others surrounding the process through which the county advertises its ambulance service for bid and how the signatures of the county mayor and MedicOne CEO Jim Reeves were attached to a draft of the contract finally made their way up for commission discussion Monday night.

Due to inclement weather forecast for early Tuesday, the discussion was still underway when the Johnson City Press went to print on Monday night and will be covered in a follow-up to this story on Wendesday.

The potential for a MedicOne lawsuit against the county, which one commissioner said could cost the county as much as $900,000, became the sticking point soon after the contract came up for discussion near the end of the commission’s Monday night agenda.

Commissioner Todd Wilcox resigned from his post as vice-chairman of the commission Jan. 18 after his motion to reconsider the contract award died for a lack of second in a specially called meeting.

He made the motion to reconsider the contract award again Monday. Commissioner Marie Rice this time seconded the motion, opening the matter for discussion.

Wilcox then reiterated his contention that “We all agree the bid process was done incorrectly,” and cited a Tennessee Attorney General opinion that requires at least two bids in a competitive bid process. “We just had one. And in 2015, we just had one,” he said.

“I was led to believe that MedicOne was the only one interested … I looked into and found out MedicOne was the only one that got (the request for proposals).

“Then we get down to ‘do we have a signed contract?’ I checked it out. The mayor told me that he thought what he signed was a rough draft …I got a copy of the final contract and it’s not signed by anyone,” Wilcox said.

Asked for his opinion on whether the county has a legal contract with MedicOne, County Attorney Doug Shults refused to state his opinion publicly, saying he given his opinion to each of commissioners privately. 

“You all have my opinion. We are looking at potential litigation,” he said.

In addition to the questioned bid process, Rice said the contract is fraught with other problems, including its demand that the county provide a radio frequency for MedicOne.

Earlier this month, the Unicoi County Firefighters Association advised the commission it would no longer allow MedicOne to use its frequency due to the company’s disregard for firefighters’ use of the frequency.

Rice said she has since been advised it will require three more 911 dispatchers to run another frequency, which will add to the cost to the ambulance service.

Addressing the mayor’s signing of the draft contract, Rice noted MedicOne’s past two contracts were formally signed weeks after the commission approved contracts.

Commissioner Glenn Wright said he had been told the potential ligation with MedicOne could cost the county $900,000 that, if awarded, would have to be paid through a tax increase of about 30 cents. 

“Is that what we want?” he asked.

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