By Richard Rourk
On Wednesday, Jan. 30, John Day filed a lawsuit against Unicoi County, the office of Unicoi County mayor and the Unicoi County Commission challenging the county’s recent decision to award MedicOne Medical Response, Inc. a contract to provide ambulance services to the county from April 2019 to April 2023.
“The lawsuit is not punitive toward the mayor and commissioners or seeks any damages from them,” Day said. “It simply is a mechanism that will allow the commissioners to rebid the ambulance service contract in a manner that meets state law and without fear of a lawsuit by MedicOne.”
Day, a former Unicoi County mayoral candidate and leader of a group of citizens who have expressed concerns over the process that led to MedicOne receiving the contract, is representing himself in the suit. He filed an amended complaint with the Chancery Court for State of Tennessee First Judicial District, Unicoi County on Monday, Feb. 4.
The new contract with the company includes a $225,000 annual subsidy to be paid by the county to the company, which has provided ambulance services in Unicoi County for the past eight years. The county’s previous contract with MedicOne, which is set to expire when the new one begins, included an annual subsidy of $132,000.
The Unicoi County Commission voted to approve the bid and contract during its Dec. 17, 2018, meeting on a 6-2 vote. County Commissioner and Ambulance Committee Chairman John Mosley made the motion to approve the contract with MedicOne and Commissioner Jamie Harris seconded the motion.
Joining commissioners Jamie Harris and Mosley in voting to approve a new contract with MedicOne were commissioners Glenn White, Todd Wilcox, Stephen Hendrix and Matthew Rice. Commissioner Marie Rice and Commissioner Jason Harris voted no on the contract. Commission Chairman Loren Thomas, whose wife Cathy Thomas is an employee of MedicOne, abstained from voting.
In the weeks that followed the December approval of the contract, Day encouraged the Unicoi County Commission to reconsider the decision, citing issues with the bidding process and contract status.
The MedicOne contract came before the commission again on Jan. 28. During that meeting, Wilcox made a motion for the panel to reconsider awarding the contract to MedicOne and put the contract out for bid again. That motion, however, failed on a 5-3 vote as only Wilcox, Jason Harris and Marie Rice voted in favor. White, Matthew Rice, Mosley, Jamie Harris and Stephen Hendrix voted against Wilcox’s motion. Thomas again abstained.
Also during that meeting, White expressed concern over a possible lawsuit MedicOne could file against the county for breach of contract that could cost $900,000.
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According to Day’s amended complaint, he is “challenging the legality of the expenditure of public funds for a county ambulance service contract” the defendants awarded to MedicOne. The complaint also states that the contract was awarded “through the employment of an unlawful … ‘competitive bid’ process from May 11, 2018, through Jan. 28, 2019.”
The amended complaint also alleges that there are issues with the bid process that led to Medic -One receiving the contract with the county in both 2015 and 2018. The amended complaint alleges that companies had only 15 days to submit bids in 2015 and that MedicOne, which was already serving in the county, was the only company to bid at that time. The company was later awarded a new contract for the years 2015-19.
According to the amended complaint, county officials began discussing bids for a new ambulance service contract in March 2018. The following month, the complaint states, Lifeguard Ambulance Services and American Medical Response (AMR) expressed interest in bidding on the new contract.
“From May 11, 2018, through the end of the defendants County Commission’s regular meeting on Dec. 17, 2018, when they voted to award the new contract to MedicOne, (Thomas) failed to ever inform the other defendants that managers at Lifeguard and AMR still wanted to bid on the contract,” the amended complaint states.
“I filed separate federal and state actions against Loren Thomas for his interference with the ambulance service bidding process by withholding information regarding companies who had requested RFPs (request for proposals) in 2018, but did not receive them,” Day told The Erwin Record.
The complaint also alleges that neither Lifeguard nor AMR received the RFP from the county that was issued on May 11, 2018.
“In fact, MedicOne was the only ambulance service provider, who wanted to bid on the contract, to receive an RFP and the only one who submitted a bid on June 10, 2018,” the amended complaint states.
The lawsuit also alleges that during its years of service in Unicoi County, MedicOne has been “cited for dozens of contract violations, including, but not limited to, poor staffing and poor response times that likely resulted in at least three deaths.”
Day also discusses MedicOne CEO Jim Reeves’ status as an auxiliary officer with the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department from 2011-17 in the complaint. Day states that Reeves has given “expensive equipment” to the department at no cost.
Thomas is listed as an auxiliary deputy in the amended complaint, which also states that he “receives a personal financial benefit via his wife’s salary from MedicOne.” Day’s complaint also states that Thomas opposed MedicOne receiving a contract with the county in February 2015.
The issue of whether or not the contract Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely and Reeves signed is the final contract or a draft copy is also raised by Day in his amended complaint. On Dec. 14, according to the complaint, Evely forwarded a “marked up copy of the contract” to Reeves.
“As of the date of this filing, (Evely) contends that he was not signing the ‘final contract’ by signing that marked up copy on Dec. 19, 2018 …” the amended complaint states.
Day requests in the amended complaint that the contract awarded to MedicOne by the county in December be voided and that “any and all contracts in any state” be rescinded. He is also seeking court costs and any other relief to which he could be entitled.
Evely did not wish to comment due to the pending investigation.
Thomas did provide a comment, saying: “Due to the pending lawsuit and specific accusations towards me from Mr. Day, I cannot say much at this time other than I believe the current commission and mayor has acted in good faith and according to the laws and made the best decisions we could considering the bidding process debacle that the previous commission chaired by Marie Rice left us in,” Thomas told The Erwin Record.