By Reggie Ellis
exeter – Those hoping the Exeter District Ambulance Board would take a more hands-off approach to overseeing the public ambulance company have been granted their wish. But, as always, be careful what you wish for.
The special tax district’s board is down to two members following the recent resignations of two other board members. Board President Alan Sherer tendered his resignation in a letter dated June 26 while Board member Rob Hubbard submitted his letter of resignation on June 27. Both cited personal reasons for leaving, said interim District Manager T.J. Fischer, and neither letter addressed the ongoing turmoil within the Exeter District Ambulance (EDA). Just before resigning, both Sherer and Hubbard were in attendance at the June 22 meeting when the board accepted the resignation of Stacy Walter, who stepped down from the board on May 8.
The three vacancies leave the board without a quorum, the minimum number of three board members of a five-person board required for a formal vote. The board is unable to vote, or even hold a meeting, until a third person is appointed to the board. So the task of filling a third seat falls to District 1 Supervisor Kuyler Crocker and the Tulare County Board of Supervisors. Crocker has notified the County to advertise the vacancy on the EDA board until he makes a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors to appoint a qualified candidate, meaning someone who legally resides within the ambulance district’s boundaries, encompassing all of the City of Exeter and some of the surrounding area.
This is not the first time that EDA has needed the Board of Supervisors to appoint a member due to a lack of quorum. In April 2015, then District 1 Supervisor Allen Ishida recommended Alan’s brother Mike Sherer be appointed to the EDA Board following a mass exodus of three elected officials and nearly every professional contractor employed by the district. Then Board President Daymon Qualls resigned a week earlier on April 1 on the heels of resignations by members Leamon Smith on Feb. 17 and Garrett German on March 30. A month later, Sierra Lifestar, Inc., better known as Lifestar Ambulance in Tulare, terminated its contract to provide management services for EDA.
Paul Blair, a paramedic with EDA for the last seven years, said he and other employees were in some ways looking forward to a period of inaction by the board.
“You’ll probably see more of us leave in the next few weeks as that situation continues to get worse,” he said. “The only bright spot is that the Board can’t meet for awhile and screw up anything else.”
Blair was among several paramedics to rejoin EDA after former paramedic Kim Damico was named district manager after Sierra Lifestar ended its contract in May 2015. Since Damico was indefinitely placed on administrative leave in January, Blair said at least five paramedics have left EDA because of that and other actions spearheaded by Board member Tony Miller.
“We went from being the best ambulance company in the County to being like radiation that no one would touch,” Blair said. “It’s sad to see everything we have worked for become a sinking ship.”
Two of the biggest loses came at the end of June when EDA’s only two field supervisors parted ways with the public ambulance. Matt Caserza resigned on June 28 and Jennifer Rios said she was told her “services were no longer needed and that she was an at will employee” on June 29. Rios said Fischer was instructed to terminate her employment following a closed session decision on June 22, but that she was never notified that the board would be discussing her employment until after the meeting.
Fischer said he didn’t wish to comment on Rios’ departure from the public ambulance company but did confirm that her last day of work was on June 29.
Rios said her release and Caserza’s resignation as well as the resgination of shift lead Casey Randall, has created a critical timeframe for the board to fill its vacancy and appoint new field supervisors. Other than the district manager and medical officer, Rios said field supervisors are the only ones who have access to the office where drugs are checked in and out to restock the cabinets in the ambulance rigs.
“I don’t think they have even ordered any medications and I don’t think anyone there has been granted power of attorney to sign off on the orders for medications,” Rios said.
Fischer said once a third board member is appointed the quorum can appoint people to fill the remaining two vacancies on the EDA Board and decide on a permanent district manager, as Fischer has served as the interim district manager since being hired in February. After selecting a permanent manager, Fischer said the Board will likely name two new field supervisors.
Rios said she doesn’t see much hope for the ambulance district because board members Miller and Darinda Kunkel remain on the board. She said regardless of who the Supervisors appoint to fill the third seat, Miller and Kunkel will ultimately decide the makeup of the rest of the board. She also said the effort to recall the two board members had not gained much interest as many people were unaware of the issues or didn’t understand how the special tax district operated a publicly-funded ambulance company. Recall proponents have a little more than a month to gather 1,639 signatures, or 25% of the total number of voters registered in the ambulance district, in order for the recall election to qualify for the ballot. Even if it qualifies, it has been difficult historically for EDA to find residents living within the district who are interested in serving on the board.
“Now [Miller and Kunkel] can stack the deck in their favor,” she said. “I don’t see any of this ending well.”
Rios said leaving EDA has been a relief after years of working to cobble the district back together only to see it fall apart again.
“It was chaotic and really toxic,” she said. “It was starting to affect my health. After all of the work we did, [Miller] was able to destroy that in a matter of months. It was wiped away like none of that meant anything.”
It was unclear if the lack of field supervisors would have any affect in delaying the Board’s June 22 decision to post an ambulance in Farmersville part time. Fischer said the Ambulance Providers Association of Tulare County has been pushing for EDA to station an ambulance in Farmersville at least part of the day. EDA currently stations two full-time ambulances in Exeter, one in Lindsay and one in Lemon Cove each day.
Under the Board’s recent decision, one of the ambulances in Exeter would split the day between Exeter and Farmersville.
“I’d like to see an ambulance there full time and stationed somewhere the paramedics aren’t sitting in the heat,” Fischer said.
EDA has not stationed an ambulance in Farmersville since 2005 when it reduced the number of crews due to the financial failings of the district.