MedicOne contract stands, litigation still possible

Sue Guinn Legg • Jan 29, 2019 at 10:11 PM

Pleas for the Unicoi County Commission to redo its advertisement for bids on a four-year ambulance service contract awarded to MedicOne Medical Response in December fell short Monday on a split commission vote that hinged on the possibility of $900,000 lawsuit.

With commissioners Matthew Rice, Jamie Harris, Glenn White, Stephen Hendrix and John Mosley opposed, commissioners Todd Wilcox, Marie Rice and Jason Harris in favor and Commission Chairman Loren Thomas abstaining, a motion to put the contract back out for bids failed by a vote of 5 to 3.

While dodging the bullet of what one commissioner said could have been a $900,000 breach-of-contract lawsuit by MedicOne, the commission did not escape the threat of potential litigation.

Johnny Day, the leader of the group of concerned citizens that first brought flaws in the bidding process to the county’s attention in early January and has since repeatedly requested the issuance of new request for contract proposals, repeated his intent to seek legal remedy in an email sent to the commissioners and local media on Tuesday.

The email included a state attorney general opinion and Tennessee statutes regarding competitive bidding and “ignorance of law” and Day’s recommendation that county officials “get real familiar with all of them ASAP … because you’re going to use them again real soon.”

In Monday’s meeting, Wilcox, who resigned from his post as vice chairman of the commission on Jan. 18 after his motion to reconsider the contract award died for a lack of second, reiterated his contention that the bid process was flawed and also cited a Tennessee attorney general opinion requiring more than one bid in a competitive bid process.

Wilcox said, “I was led to believe that MedicOne was the only one interested… I looked into and found out MedicOne was the only one that got (the request for proposals).

“Then we get down to ‘do we have a signed contract?’ I checked it out. The mayor told me that thought what he signed was a rough draft … I got a copy of the final contract and it’s not signed by anyone,” he said.

County Attorney Doug Shults refused to state his opinion on whether the county was bound by the signed draft of the contract, saying he had given his opinion to each of commissioners privately. “You all have my opinion. We are looking at potential litigation,” Shults said.

Marie Rice cited other problems in the contract, including a demand the county provide a radio frequency for the MedicOne, the Unicoi County Firefighters Association’s refusal to allow the company to use its frequency and a need for  more 911 dispatchers to handle a second frequency.

Commissioner Glenn Wright made the threat of the MedicOne breach-of-contract lawsuit public, saying he had advised the potential litigation could cost the county $900,000, which would have to be paid through 30-cent property tax increase.

In other business on Monday, the commission elected Jamie Harris to fill the vice chairman seat vacated by Wilcox.

Mosley nominated Jamie Harris for the seat while Wilcox nominated Matthew Rice and Jason Harris nominated Marie Rice.

Marie Rice declined the nomination, and commission voted first on the Jamie Harris nomination, with Thomas saying the first nominee to receive five votes would be elected vice chair.

Jamie Harris then won the post with the needed five votes coming from himself, White, Hendrix, Mosley and Thomas.