Ethics issue complicates EMSA case
BY ZIVA BRANSTETTER World Enterprise Editor
Sunday, April 01, 2012
4/01/12 at 4:07 AM
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For more than 20 years, the Works & Lentz law firm has held a no-bid contract to provide collections and legal services for EMSA.
For nearly all of those years, the daughter of EMSA CEO Steve Williamson has worked for the firm. Williamson confirmed that Works & Lentz hired his daughter, Jennifer Thomas, 37, during high school as a file clerk, that she worked part time for the firm in college and now works full time in its payroll department. The relationship was not disclosed to EMSA's board.
Thomas could not be reached for comment, and an attorney for Works & Lentz, Joel Wohlgemuth, declined comment on behalf of the firm.
The firm and EMSA have been named in a suit seeking class-action status. The suit alleges Works & Lentz and EMSA fraudulently collected money from citizens who pay a monthly utility fee for ambulance service.
Records show Williamson, who has been EMSA's CEO for 34 years, negotiated a collections contract with Works & Lentz in November 1989 and amended it in 2006. Last year, EMSA hired Works & Lentz to handle claims from workers compensation cases.
Williamson said he does not believe it is a conflict of interest to negotiate and sign government contracts with his daughter's employer. He said the situation could present an appearance of a conflict "when you put it like that."
Williamson said he did not disclose the fact that his daughter worked for Works & Lentz to EMSA's board. He said he was unsure of the details of the city's ethics policy but did not believe it would apply since his daughter is a payroll clerk.
The city's ethics policy applies to trustees of boards such as EMSA but not to agency executives, records show.
The policy states that officials are required to recuse themselves from involvement in any business in which they have a personal interest.
"The possibility, not the actuality, of a conflict shall govern," the ethics policy states.
Michael Slankard, a member of the city's ethics committee since its inception, said while the policy only covers board members, its intent is to cover situations such as Williamson's.
"If the citizens of Tulsa reasonably expect that there's a conflict, well that's enough," Slankard said. "It doesn't have to be a conflict, just the appearance of it."
EMSA Board of Trustees
EMSA is public trust authority, a type of government agency, with Tulsa and Oklahoma City as its beneficiaries. EMSA oversees a private contractor, Texas-based Paramedics Plus, which provides ambulance service to more than 1 million people statewide.
An 11-member board of trustees is responsible for overseeing EMSA. The board meets monthly via videoconference to consider approval of budgets and other agenda items.
Eight of the 11 trustees are appointed by the mayors of Tulsa and Oklahoma City. The director of a related entity, the Medical Control Board, is also an EMSA trustee. The Medical Control Board director conducts audits and testing of medics in the system, writes medical protocols and reviews complaints.
Here are the current members of EMSA's board and their occupations or employers:
- Dr. James L. Griffin (chairman), Tulsa, orthopedic surgeon
- Dr. James Rodgers, Tulsa, surgeon
- Dr. Tyree Seals, Tulsa, internal medicine
- Dr. Jeffrey Goodloe, medical director, Medical Control Board, emergency medicine doctor
- Phillip Morgans, representing Jenks
- Clay Bird, city of Tulsa economic development director
- Dr. Ed Shadid, city councilor, Oklahoma City
- Larry Stevens, Edmond city manager
- Joe Hodges, president St. Anthony Hospital, Oklahoma City
- Lillian Perryman, director of emergency services for Integris Health, Okahoma City
- Gary Marrs, city councilor, Oklahoma City
Ziva Branstetter 918-581-8306
Attorneys Harry Lentz and his daughter Susan Lentz leave a courtroom at the Tulsa County Courthouse on March 27. The two were in court for collections of EMSA bills as well as other cases. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World