Pictured from left, commissioners Todd Wilcox, Marie Rice and Jason Harris were the only members of the Unicoi County Commission to vote in favor of reconsidering the contract the county agreed to with MedicOne for ambulance services. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

MedicOne will continue to provide ambulance services to Unicoi County in the coming years.

During a meeting of the Unicoi County Commission on Monday, Jan. 28, at the Unicoi County Courthouse, the panel voted to move forward with its contract with the company that was originally agreed upon in December 2018.

That decision did not come without opposition.

During Monday’s meeting, Commissioner Todd Wilcox, who recently stepped down as the panel’s vice chair, made a motion to reconsider the decision to give MedicOne the contract to provide ambulance services in Unicoi County from April 2019 through April 2023.

“We looked at the bidding process and it was done incorrectly, and I have a problem with that,” Wilcox said.

Wilcox stated he wanted to do right by the citizens of Unicoi County.

“At the end of the day I work for you, the citizens,” Wilcox said.

Commissioner Marie Rice agreed with Wilcox and seconded his motion to reconsider the contract. She questioned if the signed contract was a draft or a valid contract with MedicOne.

“I have a problem saying this is a final contract,” Rice said.

Unicoi County Commissioner Glenn White said he was conflicted on the issue, but decided he did not want to risk a potential lawsuit if the county would be in breach of contract. Some believed that taking the contract away from MedicOne could prompt the company to file a lawsuit against the county. That could have led to a $900,000 penalty.

“I agree with commissioners Todd Wilcox and Marie Rice, but there is an opinion that this is a valid contract,” White said. “That’s my hold up, a possible lawsuit. We don’t have the money for that and it would cost our taxpayers.”

John Day, a former county mayoral candidate who has led the opposition to having MedicOne provide ambulance services to the county, addressed the commission on Monday and assured them that the contract was not valid and if the county was taken to court, it would be a “slam dunk case” for the county attorney. Day also addressed the concern over losing MedicOne staff. “You heard Mr. (Christopher Blach) from (American Medical Response) AMR ask why he would go out looking for a new staff, when he has one right here,” Day said.

Day brought AMR to Unicoi County as a possible ambulance service provider.

Unicoi County Commissioner Matthew Rice addressed Day’s concerns.

“You are saying that these individuals here in MedicOne shirts would be retained by another ambulance service,” Matthew Rice said. “So what you are asking us to do is to gamble with a lawsuit to get the same staff, just with another ambulance service.”

Wilcox’s motion to reconsider the contract with MedicOne failed on a 5-3 vote. Wilcox, Marie Rice and Commissioner Jason Harris voting to reconsider. Commissioners Glenn White, Matthew Rice, Stephen Hendrix, Jamie Harris and John Mosley voted against the motion. Chairman Loren Thomas abstained.

The failed motion essentially kept MedicOne as the county’s ambulance service provider, according to terms of the contract beginning in April 2019.

• • •

The commission moved on with filling the recently vacated vice chairman seat. Commissioner Jamie Harris was voted in and is the new vice chair following a 5-4 vote. Making the recommendation and voting for Jamie Harris was Mosley. Mosley was joined by commissioners White, Hendrix, Jamie Harris and Thomas. Opposing the recommendation were Wilcox, Marie Rice, Matthew Rice and Jason Harris.

The commission also approved to update the conference room at the Unicoi County Courthouse in a 7-2 vote. A motion was made by Jamie Harris and was seconded by Mosley to accept an upgrade to install a 65-inch television for presentations in the conference room of the Unicoi County Courthouse.

The projected cost is $687 and included all the installation equipment. Joining Vice Chairman Harris and Mosley in voting to approve the upgrades were White, Wilcox, Hendrix, Matthew Rice, and Thomas. Marie Rice and Jason Harris opposed the upgrade.

In the final order of business, the commission approved an updated website proposal that will cost $131 dollars annually for licensing purposes. Students at East Tennessee State University will be working with the county to set up the new web pages. The motion was made by Vice Chairman Harris and was seconded by Marie Rice. The commission voted unanimously to approve the joint project with ETSU.

Also on Monday, Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely stood up and said a few words in regards to Unicoi County Finance Director Phyllis Bennett, who is retiring.

“I hate to see Mrs. Bennett go,” Evely said. “She has been a valuable asset.”