Tulsa Mayor, City Councilor at Odds over EMSA Stance

Mayor Dewey Bartlett is sending mixed signals on what he knows about EMSA’s financial relationship with the city, City Councilor Bill Christiansen said Tuesday.

The councilor pointed out that Bartlett was quoted in the Tulsa World saying he decided to stay with the Emergency Medical Services Authority because he “didn’t see any advantage, financially or medically,” in moving the ambulance service operations to the Tulsa Fire Department.

But Christiansen said he received an email explaining that the mayor would not be attending Tuesday’s council discussion on EMSA because he was not knowledgeable enough to give details on the issue.

“I’m just getting mixed signals from the mayor,” Christiansen said. The councilor said that because the city collects a $3.64 monthly fee from residents who choose to participate in the ambulance service, the elected officials have an obligation to make sure the fee is being collected and spent properly.

No one from the Mayor’s Office or EMSA attended the meeting. Christiansen also questioned how the mayor could say he didn’t see a financial advantage in changing the ambulance provider when the Fire Department wasn’t given an opportunity to present the financial portion of its bid.

Every five years, the city reviews EMSA’s performance and considers whether to continue using it to operate the area’s emergency medical services. The window of opportunity to make changes ends Oct. 31. Christiansen also took issue with Bartlett’s statement to the Tulsa World in which he said Oklahoma City officials were “happy” with the current EMSA setup. Oklahoma City has hired a consultant who is evaluating the bids from both EMSA and its Fire Department.

Oklahoma City Assistant City Manager Laura Johnson said the City Council will use the consultant’s recommendation in its decision on who will be the provider. That decision also must be made by Oct. 31. EMSA CEO Steve Williamson said Christiansen “has misconstrued Oklahoma City’s use of a consultant to somehow insinuate that the city’s leadership is not happy with EMSA’s performance.” Williamson said resident surveys and city officials routinely affirm that they are very pleased with EMSA both medically and financially.

“Mayor (Mick) Cornett has stated so publicly many times, and there is nothing more to conclude than exactly that,” he said. Christiansen noted that other cities, including Oklahoma City, have elected officials serving on the EMSA board, and Tulsa does not. Christiansen also asked councilors to re-evaluate the ordinance and craft it similar to Oklahoma City’s so that there are “checks and oversights” by Tulsa elected officials concerning the $3.64 collected monthly on the utility bills.

He said Oklahoma City’s ordinance gives it more “transparency and control” over the funds and how they are spent. “I’m not saying there is anything wrong with what has been funded or not funded to EMSA,” Christiansen said. “I’m not throwing any stones; I’m just saying the city should have more control of the money.”

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