December 20, 2014

Elyria
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LifeCare contract moves to full Elyria Council

Peter de la Porte, president of LifeCare Ambulance, stands next to an ambulance in this August 2013 file photo. CHRONICLE FILE

Peter de la Porte, president of LifeCare Ambulance, stands next to an ambulance in this August 2013 file photo. CHRONICLE FILE

Correction: This story mischaracterized remarks of Mayor Holly Brinda. The story did not make clear that the remarks were made to a reporter after a meeting of City Council’s Finance Committee, not during the meeting. Further, the story attributed remarks to Brinda that she did not make. She expressed frustration that the committee had questioned her authority to terminate the contract, but she did not describe the questions as evidence that Council mistrusted her. Nor did she say she found that insulting.

ELYRIA — When the word “LifeCare” is uttered in City Hall, a showdown is almost certain to take place.

What should have been a quick meeting Monday night to formally sign off on a contract months in the making between LifeCare Ambulance Inc. and the city turned into a heated debate between Mayor Holly Brinda and Councilman Vic Stewart, head of the Finance Committee. At issue was whether the mayor should be in control of contract termination in the future or if Council will be involved.

Stewart said he thought it was made clear earlier this year that Council wanted its involvement in future dealings with LifeCare spelled out in the final deal. But that sentiment was never formally put in writing to Brinda, so negotiations continued until an agreement was reached this spring. The termination clause now reads, “For the purposes of this agreement, the decision to terminate shall be within the discretion of the chief executive officer of the city … however, the mayor shall advise and consult with Elyria City Council prior to terminating this agreement for one or more of the factors provided.”

“We thought we were clear, but this does not allow for the oversight we wanted,” Stewart said.

Debate raged for several minutes until Councilman Jack Baird finally pushed Finance Committee members to vote. Stewart was the only member to vote no, giving the matter the votes needed to get it on the full Council agenda Monday.

Prior to the vote, Law Director Scott Serazin told Council members they could not add new language to a contract. Their only avenue was to reject the contract and send the mayor back to the negotiating table.

However, after months of wrangling a deal, Brinda said going back to the table was pointless.

“This contract has had more due diligence than any other contract in the city of Elyria,” she said. “The administration has signed off on it. LifeCare has signed off on it. Even the Fire Department is happy with it. The only problem is City Council, and every day you stall in adopting this contract is another day this service in the city is not being monitored.”

But it’s not LifeCare that needs monitoring, Stewart retorted.

“We want to be involved because of the unique situation and where it seemed this agreement was going with LifeCare and the administration,” Stewart said.

Council members have taken an unprecedented step in publicly supporting the local ambulance service and fighting for it to remain the city’s sole emergency medical service provider.

LifeCare signed off on the contract in May, saying it fully approved of the deal that named it the exclusive emergency transportation provider for the city. In doing so, company owners also knew Brinda had the authority to walk away if LifeCare didn’t live up to the deal.

“If the vendor is not standing here saying, this is an unfair contract and they are worried the mayor will get rid of them without cause, then why are you?” said Safety Service Director Mary Siwierka. “Why is it that this particular vendor should be treated different? Why does Council want to acquiesce to this vendor?”

Brinda said she only wants the same power to manage contracts as she has with every other negotiated service agreement in the city. Council does not have now nor has it ever demanded such oversight with any other vendor contract and to do so almost insinuates Council does not trust Brinda to act — something she said is insulting.

“We would only terminate if there was a violation of the very specific provisions in the contract,” Brinda said. “We would not be frivolous with that authority.

“I can’t sign a contract and then have no authority to terminate it if the vendor is in violation,” she said. “This is about protecting the citizen and having the authority to execute consequences for certain actions.”

Terry “Pete” Shilling, former law director and now Brinda’s administrative legal counsel, cautioned Council against letting LifeCare be the exception to a longstanding rule.

“I don’t think Council wants to get into the day-to-day operation of contracts,” he said. “They have better things to do, and that is why we have the city charter, which spells out the mayor’s role.”

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com. Follow her on Twitter @LisaRobersonCT.