Ordinance sparks debate

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 11, 2005

WINTON – Ricky White and Tim Bazemore left the Hertford County Commissioners meeting empty-handed here Monday night, but both still had hope.

White, owner of White Oak Medical Transport, and Bazemore’s Coastal Medical Transport were denied in their respective bids to secure a franchise license to operate their Bertie County based businesses in Hertford County.

However, Board Chairman DuPont Davis did not rule out the possibility that things may be a bit different if they decided to apply again.

Hertford is among a growing number of North Carolina counties to require emergency and non-emergency medical transport units to apply and become approved for a franchise license. An accompanying ordinance deals with meeting certain requirements, including EMT and transport vehicle certification and maintaining at least $1 million in liability insurance.

White Oak’s application, its second in as many years, was denied based on a lack of need of additional services in Hertford County. That was one of the reasons behind rejecting Coastal Medical’s bid. The other was failing to provide requested information as required by the ordinance.

Both denials came during a May 26 meeting of the Hertford County Transportation Committee meeting. That Committee reviews all applications and forwards its recommendations to the Board of Commissioners.

Before passing judgment on those recommendations, the Commissioners allowed White and Bazemore a chance to state their case.

&uot;There are a lot of citizens in Hertford County asking for our services,&uot; White said. &uot;I knew we’d be turned down from a competition standpoint.&uot;

White continued, &uot;We feel there needs to be more choices in Hertford County for medical transport, just as people have the right to choose between many choices of doctors and other medical providers. Just give us a chance. Let the people choose who they want.&uot;

Bazemore took a different approach, using a letter – signed in 2000 by Patricia Weaver, Clerk to the Board of Commissioners – that gave him the right to operate in Hertford County.

He added to that letter by saying, &uot;It’s not about the quantity of (transport) services you have in Hertford County, but the quality of those services.&uot;

Chuck Revelle, Board attorney, addressed the legality of Bazemore’s letter. He said it was legal and binding upon being issued in 2000. However, its wording became ineffective in November of 2002 when Hertford County’s Commissioners passed the Franchise Ordinance. At that time, all medical transport units – emergency and non-emergency – were required to apply for a franchise.

&uot;I recall 18 such transport units operating at that time in 2002,&uot; Revelle said. &uot;Letters were sent to each, asking them to apply, if they wished, for a franchise agreement with the county. Ten did so and all 10 were approved.&uot;

Bazemore told the Board he did apply for a franchise in 2002. He said he gave the application and the $100 fee to Charles Jones, the county’s Emergency Medical Director, but Jones gave it back.

Revelle said Bazemore’s original application and fee was returned because the ordinance was still being discussed at that particular time. It had yet to be approved.

&uot;Mr. Bazemore has had plenty of opportunities to apply for a franchise since that time and has not until his most recent request and then he failed to supply the documentation we need to fulfill the requirements of the ordinance,&uot; Jones said.

Jones went on to explain that the denials were based on not needing additional transport services in the county.

&uot;Our transport numbers are down and our population numbers are not growing,&uot; Jones noted.

Tonza Ruffin, a Windsor attorney representing Coastal Medical Transport, said that Jones took months to respond to her request for what type of documents were needed for her client to apply for a franchise.

&uot;We have the documentation needed in this case and have provided all that was required,&uot; Ruffin said. &uot;I feel there is a breakdown in communication.&uot;

Jones denied that, saying that Bazemore was invited to the May 26 Transportation Committee meeting.

Ruffin countered by saying her office was not notified of the meeting. She then asked Revelle wasn’t it a legal courtesy to invite an attorney representing a company filing an application. Revelle answered yes, but did add that the committee had to be made aware that there was an attorney involved before having the knowledge to mail an invitation.

&uot;What is relevant now is does Mr. Bazemore’s documentation meet the requirements of the ordinance,&uot; Revelle noted. &uot;Also, is there a need for additional (transport) services and does Mr. Bazemore’s company fit those needs. Those are the questions that must be answered.&uot;

Davis then stepped into the conversation.

&uot;My position is this – I would like to see the county-owned business get all the transports because that will help offset the cost of the vehicles and the salaries of the employees, thus saving taxpayer’s money,&uot; Davis said. &uot;At the same time, if I’m in need of medical transport, I don’t care where it comes from, as long as it comes. I feel it’s unfair and unjust to Mr. Bazemore and Mr. White. We will discuss this further because we want what’s best for the citizens of Hertford County.&uot;

Davis mentioned the possibility of looking at the set-up of the Transportation Committee to ensure everyone was being done fairly.

Two motions were made dealing with the issue. Curtis Freeman offered one to accept the Transportation Committee’s recommendations in this matter while John Pierce wanted to table the issue for 30 days for further investigation and discussion.

Pierce’s motion died for the lack of a second. Johnnie Ray Farmer seconded Freeman’s motion and it passed 4-1 with Pierce casting the dissenting vote.

The Transportation Committee’s recommendations also included denying a franchise application for Preferred Medical as well as granting an application to Aulander Rescue Squad (for emergency calls only). The Aulander request was based on serving a six-month probationary period during which time they were to abide by four stipulations of their franchise ordinance agreement with the county.