ELYRIA — A divided City Council voted Tuesday night to approve the updated service contract Mayor Holly Brinda hashed out with LifeCare Ambulance Inc., but not before dissenting Council members tried in vain to change the ordinance to give Council more control.
It’s been at least three months since Brinda and LifeCare officials came to an agreement over how emergency medical services would be provided in the city for the next five years. But the contract has remained unsigned as Brinda waited for Council to approve the deal.
Several Council members said the mayor should not have complete control over the termination of the agreement. The city’s charter gives the mayor’s office the authority to end all service and vendor contracts, but many contend LifeCare is different, so different rules should come into play.
“This isn’t a copier contract,” said Councilman Mark Craig, I-4th Ward. “This is about the emergency medical services that are provided to the citizens of this city.”
Craig suggested Council amend the ordinance, which authorized the mayor to sign the contract, to include language that gives Council the final say on ending the relationship. Law Director Scott Serazin told Council it did not have the authority to do that.
“You can’t change the terms of the contract by changing the ordinance,” he said. “A contract is a meeting of the minds. LifeCare came to the city and negotiated this contract. You either accept the contract as it is or you don’t accept it.”
The final vote was 6 to 4, with Council members Tom Callahan, D-at large; Jack Cerra, D-7th Ward; Donna Mitchell, D-6th Ward; Jack Baird, R-at large; Mark Jessie, D-3rd Ward; and Marcus Madison, D-5th Ward; voting to accept the contract.
“We have been talking about this contract for a very long time,” Mitchell said. “A lot of hard work went into it and LifeCare accepted this contract. We have to accept it as well.”
Brinda stayed mostly silent as Council members debated. Instead, it was Serazin who reiterated Brinda’s power under the charter and admonished Council members for trying to alter the contract through legislative changes.
Serazin said the mayor has a limited range of circumstances under which she can terminate the contract, and within those circumstances she also must consult with Council before taking action.
“But someone has to make a decision and the mayor’s office, the way I am reading the charter, is the most appropriate place to make those decisions,” he said.
It should come as no surprise that some on Council feel this way, said Councilman Vic Stewart, D-at large.
“We all know this is a unique situation and we want to be in control of this situation,” he said. “That is why I will not be in favor of this contract.”
Joining Stewart in voting against the contract ordinance were Council President Mike Lotko, D-at large, Councilman Larry Tanner, D-1st Ward, and Craig.
Councilwoman Brenda Davis, D-2nd Ward, was absent from the meeting.
The now-approved contract frames how Elyria sees the city fitting into emergency medicine. It outlines LifeCare as the primary provider of emergency medical services, with the Elyria Fire Department taking on a reduced role as first responders.
In addition, it calls on LifeCare to meet response times set by the National Fire Protection Agency of arriving on scene 90 percent of the time within eight minutes after receiving 911 calls and shifts the main oversight of the contract’s compliance to the Joint Quality Assurance Board, which consists of representatives from the city, LifeCare and University Hospitals Elyria.
Serazin said the only major difference between this agreement and the previous one that was in effect for 17 years is the inclusion of a five-year term limit. The old contract renewed automatically.