Stricter oversight sought for EMSA
BY KEVIN CANFIELD World Staff Writer
Friday, February 08, 2013
2/08/13 at 7:38 AM
Complete coverage of EMSA’s financial practices: Find all the stories in Enterprise Editor Ziva Branstetter’s investigation into Tulsa’s ambulance provider.
Mayor Dewey Bartlett would like the EMSA board of trustees to consider reviewing all discretionary expenditures of $500 or more, his appointee to the board told city councilors Thursday.
Clay Bird, chief economic development officer for the city, said it has also been suggested that the EMSA board receive a printout of all expenditures for review on a quarterly basis.
"Now I don't think we want to get into just micromanaging down to the penny," Bird said. "But at the same time, with what has gone on, ... we want pretty extreme oversight at this point."
Councilors invited the mayor to their afternoon committee meeting to "get some feel that the administration is looking at this and not just taking it lightly," Councilor Jack Henderson said.
Bird, who spoke on Bartlett's behalf because the mayor was out of town, said the mayor has a lot of faith in the service EMSA provides.
"But what he has a huge concern with, like I think we all do, are things on the spending side - the expenditures," Bird said
A state audit issued in January found that EMSA spent lavishly on "unwarranted and extravagant" items, including spa treatments for CEO Steve Williamson and an anniversary party for employees, and took EMSA's board to task for failing to stop "abusive expenditure patterns."
The audit by the state Auditor and Inspector's Office covers activity from Jan. 1, 2009, through June 30, 2012.
It was sparked by a Tulsa World investigation into the agency and confirms the World's findings, and it makes recommendations for improvements to EMSA's patient billing system.
The City Council last year urged EMSA to seek an investigative audit.
Bird told councilors that the EMSA board has already initiated a new travel policy and is looking at its procedures for expense reimbursements.
"So we are looking at that, looking at things that have come out within the audit and seeing (whether) we have any gaps in our policies where we need to establish new policies or amend existing policies," Bird said. "We intend to be very thorough on all that."
Bird said new details of the audit have come to light as the board continues to review it. For example, the $415 and $490 spa treatments for which Williamson reportedly was reimbursed were not for treatments he received but were purchased for an employee awards program, Bird said.
"I wish my employer would (give me) a reward," said Councilor Karen Gilbert.
Records show Williamson submitted the receipts for Marilyn Ihloff Day Spa in Tulsa on his expense report, indicating that Paramedics Plus, EMSA's contractor, should be billed. The faded receipts do not show who received the services, which the state audit cites among the "abusive purchases" made by the CEO.
Gilbert asked Bird whether the board should have been keeping a closer eye on how taxpayer dollars were being spent.
"I think it probably should," Bird said. "I think given what has happened we are going to have to get into more detail."
Councilor Jeannie Cue asked Bird whether the EMSA board has taken a look at the organization's spending since June 30, 2012, the last day covered by the audit.
Bird said the board needs to determine what it needs to look at "before we can know exactly what we are supposed to be looking for."
Bird said he thinks turnover on the EMSA board and the fact that members can attend meetings via video teleconference has made it a lot easier for board members to get disconnected.
"I think that is how a lot of stuff was allowed to happen and not know that there was a problem," he said.
After the meeting, Bird said he does not see the video teleconference option being eliminated, but he said new policies and procedures being established by the board can help address the issue by ensuring that new board members receive proper orientation and education regarding EMSA's procedures.
Original Print Headline: Stricter oversight urged for EMSA
Kevin Canfield 918-581-8313