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San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith’s office is out with a report advising the city council against considering a request by the fire department and their International Association of Firefighters Union, Local 145, to take the responsibility for providing Advanced Life Support (ALS) Emergency Medical Services (EMS) away from Rural/Metro, a company reported to be failing financially and place it in the hands of the city.

In addition to its financial woes, Rural/Metro has had a poor track record of responding to emergency calls on time, as detailed in a recent San Diego CityBeat article that finds the company was excused by the city for over 11,000 late arrivals in 2012 alone.

Rural/Metro’s relationship with the city dates back to 1997, though in 2011 the original “public-private partnership” between the two was dissolved in 2009 over accusations that Rural/Metro had embezzled over $17 million. The ambulance firm instead was signed up on an exclusive no-bid contract to continue providing services while the city drafted a Request for Proposals (RFP) document to open a competitive bidding process.

The RFP wasn’t done by 2012, halfway through the temporary two-year agreement with Rural/Metro. By 2013, newly-installed (and short-lived) Mayor Bob Filner expressed interest in assigning ALS responsibility to the fire department, and the city council agreed to extend the Rural/Metro contract for another year to study the idea.

In the opinion of lawyers representing the firefighters, there should be no problem turning the most critical EMS services over to them without an open bidding process, because the city has an agreement with the County of San Diego that exempts them from seeking to directly contract with the county for EMS services, that the city is further grandfathered out of competitive bidding laws, and because the private firm currently handling the operation was installed using a no-bid process itself.

Goldsmith’s office disagrees on all counts, stating that it’s “highly unlikely” that the city could grant itself control of emergency services without a competitive bid, saying that such a move “would expose the City to significant risks because it runs contrary to both past practice and California law.”

Noah Brazier, writing on behalf of the city attorney, says “it is unclear, and unlikely” that the agreement with the county in 1997 that originally handed the reins over to Rural/Metro could be construed to allow the city to reclaim control over all or part of its EMS services.

Brazier again finds it “highly unlikely” that the firefighters’ union would prevail in claiming a grandfathering exemption to the competitive bid requirement. While he acknowledges that the union is correct in its calling out that the existing contract was awarded, and then renewed, without bid, says that “this argument, being based on a limited universe of materials, is greatly weakened,” given that the current circumstance only came about after the sudden dissolution of the Rural/Metro-city partnership following the criminal allegations against Rural/Metro.

A complete copy of the opinion is available for review here.

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Comments

Eyeeyeball Sept. 18, 2013 @ 1:08 p.m.

Goldsmith and the public welfare queens at it again ...oh no public service done by public employees.."the horror, the horror."

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John Kitchin Sept. 20, 2013 @ 10:44 p.m.

Rural Metro Division of the Mormon Church is hardly failing financially, but all that is a BIG secret. They charged me $800 ten years ago ($2400 in today's money) for a one-mile ambulance trip that I absolutely did not need at all, being able to walk very well. As for City Attorney Jan Goldsmith, how come he never got disbarred for felony prosecution of a man who wrote in chalk on a sidewalk? Felony Hopscotch is next! I suppose the complete IDIOT can get recalled.

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Burwell Sept. 20, 2013 @ 11:19 p.m.

I suspect that the city can legally terminate the Rural/Metro contract because Rural/Metro filed bankruptcy. I am certain the city's contract with Rural/Metro allows the city to terminate the contract due to the bankruptcy filing. Goldsmith's legal conclusion that the city cannot staff and run its own ambulances without competitive bidding is truly laughable.

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