A judge granted Gold Cross EMS’ request to cancel a scheduled meeting Tuesday of the committee that recommends who provides ambulance service in Augusta.
Gold Cross filed a Richmond County Superior Court petition Wednesday seeking an injunction to stop the meeting. Attorney David Hudson said Friday that Augusta Fire Chief Chris James, who also chairs the Region 6 EMS Council, violated the state’s open meetings law during a Nov. 2 council meeting when he called on city Commissioner Sammie Sias to present a request from the city to re-open the zone provider. That issue was not on the agenda, Hudson said.
“A decision like that should not be made by ambush,” Hudson said. “There was no reason to rush this through.”
The city and Gold Cross have been at odds since at least 2012, when Gold Cross broke up a shared-zone arrangement and became the designated EMS provider. Last year the commission reduced the city’s subsidy to Gold Cross by 65 percent then eliminated the subsidy when Gold Cross refused to sign the city’s contract officer.
In court Friday, senior city attorney Jody Smitherman said the city asked for the zone provider to be reopened because of complaints about response time, price gouging and ill-equipped ambulances. She said Tuesday’s hearing was essential because of the “numerous complaints” about Gold Cross’ service.
Superior Court Judge Sheryl B. Jolly disagreed that an emergency warranted holding the hearing. She said James’ request to reopen the provider zone while also being a candidate to be that provider gives an appearance of conflict of interest and it would be better for EMS council members to vote on the issue at their next meeting Feb. 1. That would give all interested parties time to prepare their arguments, she said.
Gold Cross CEO Vince Brogdon said after the judge’s ruling Friday that the company wasn’t expecting to defend its designation so soon. He said he hopes instead that he can renegotiate a contract with the city.
“Something of this magnitude requires proper notice,” Brogdon said. “We’re still wanting to work with the county to negotiate a fair contract to best serve the citizens of Richmond County.”
In 2013, the Region 6 EMS Council designated the Augusta Fire Department as the zone provider, but the state Department of Public Health rejected that designation, Hudson said. Gold Cross was then selected as the provider, a decision the city filed suit over in 2015. The city lost that lawsuit.