TULSA, Okla. — Three of EMSA’s 11 board members are serving expired terms and the agency has not followed a requirement to have an attorney on its board for more than a decade, records show. One board member, whose term expired more than one year ago, said board members are kept in the dark about much of EMSA’s operation.
“On the EMSA board, there is very little day-to-day operation that we even see, let alone vote on,” said trustee Phillip Morgans, whose term expired in 2010 but continued to serve until last month. “It’s just kind of a token thing. We just make sure the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed.”
EMSA’s bylaws allow trustees to continue serving expired terms but the agency is responsible for notifying appointing entities — the mayors of Oklahoma City, Tulsa and surrounding suburbs — that a position is expiring. There are no records to indicate that happened for months or even more than a year later.
The Emergency Medical Services Authority is a government agency that coordinates ambulance service for more than 1.1 million people statewide. Citizens in Tulsa, Oklahoma City and surrounding cities pay a monthly fee designed to provide emergency service at no out-of-pocket cost. Records show the board that oversees EMSA canceled five out of 12 meetings last year.
One board member said he did not read the current fiscal year budget before voting on it, and few board members said they ever placed an item on the agenda. CEO Steve Williamson sets most of the agenda items for meetings but said board members are welcome to place items on the agenda. He said EMSA has a new policy to ensure board members are replaced or reappointed by the city officials responsible for doing so before their terms expire.
Williamson said board members are given detailed financial information as well as data on clinical outcomes of patients and related issues. The recent focus on EMSA’s operations has led to a more involved board, he said.
“If you ask the question are they engaged more now than before, the answer is yes,” he said. Kris Koepsel, an attorney for EMSA, said EMSA’s bylaws and trust indenture allow the board to act during vacancies.
Trustees can also continue serving after their terms expire under the bylaws and indenture, he said. Though the trust indenture states one member of the board must be an attorney serving in private practice, the last time an attorney served on the board was 1998 when Elise Brennan served on the board, records show.
Williamson said he doesn’t know why the requirement wasn’t followed.
“It’s very unusual for board positions to be filled by specialty, and I think it got away from the two mayors. It certainly got past me,” Williamson said.
Morgans’ board position rotates among Bixby, Sand Springs and Jenks. A candidate to replace him on the board – Mark Joslin — has been approved by city councils in Bixby, Jenks and Sand Springs. Morgans, a retired Tulsa firefighter, said he recommended Joslin, a retired fire chief from Sand Springs, to replace him.
Other board members whose terms have expired are Chairman James Griffin, whose term expired in December; and Edmond City Manager Larry Stevens, whose term expired four months ago, records show. Williamson said that as city manager, Stevens’ term is a standing position.
He said EMSA is working with officials in Edmond to get him reappointed. Griffin, an orthopedic surgeon, is serving a term that expired in June. Records show Griffin submitted his resignation to the city of Tulsa in December but continued to serve until a replacement could be found. He said he didn’t realize that his term expired until he was asked to appear before the Tulsa City Council in the fall.
Mayor Dewey Bartlett said several candidates for the board position turned down his request that they serve. After stories in the Tulsa World outlined EMSA’s lavish spending and billing confusion, Tulsa city councilors passed a resolution calling for an investigative audit of EMSA. City Councilor Phil Lakin is expected to replace Griffin and begin serving on the board next month.
The council is scheduled to vote Thursday on his nomination by Bartlett. Lakin noted that Oklahoma City has two city councilors serving on the board: Ed Shadid, a physician, and Gary Marrs, a retired Oklahoma City fire chief.
“I think it’s real important for us to have an elected representative on an authority that touches Tulsans in such a significant way and that evidently has some issues that need to be looked into in more detail,” Lakin said.
Lakin said he has heard from a significant number of his constituents with concerns about EMSA’s operations, similar to concerns about the board that oversees the city’s trash operations.
“The citizens see similarities in that there’s no elected representative there serving as the liaison between the elected body and the authority,” he said.
Morgans served almost a year and a half after his term on the EMSA board expired. Koepsel said in an emailed response to the Tulsa World that EMSA is responsible for alerting the appointing entities when a trustee’s term expires. The World requested documents showing that EMSA notified city officials about the vacancies, but the agency did not produce any records in response.
Jenks city officials released a letter showing that on April 18 Williamson wrote a letter to Jenks City Manager Mike Tinker and Bixby City Manager Doug Enevoldsen about Morgans’ spot on the board. The letter did not note that the seat had been vacant since the end of 2010 and came days after a Tulsa World story about Griffin’s expired term. Morgans said he believes the board should be more active in the operations of EMSA and that he had to stay on the board for several months because “nobody has ever replaced me.”
Joslin said during his time as Sand Springs fire chief, he and the Sand Springs Fire Department “always had a great relationship with EMSA.”
“I think we just interacted well with the paramedics and it was always a pretty well-oiled machine doing first response and transport,” Joslin said.
Lakin said he looks forward to serving on the board. He said he believes EMSA should “clear the air” with a thorough investigative audit and seek proposals from private auditing firms as well as the state auditor’s office.
“There’s no way I’m going to take a board seat and just be a passive trustee,” Lakin said. “If we don’t know what’s going on, then shame on us. We have to ask the right questions; we have to demand that we get that information.”