Council to discuss revoking upstart ambulance service’s occupation license


The Pine Bluff City Council Council will consider a proposal at its meeting Monday that would call for a public discussion as to whether GEMS Ambulance Service’s occupation license should be revoked for violating city law.

The council meets at 5:30 p.m. Monday in council chambers at the civic complex. The Ordinances and Resolutions and Ways and Means committees meet at 5 p.m.

Galbraith Emergency Medical Services Ambulance Service Inc. of Perryville opened an office near Jefferson Regional Medical Center earlier this year. GEMS Director of Operations John Galbraith has attended council meetings asking the aldermen to amend a 1999 ordinance that awarded sister companies Emergency Ambulance Service Inc. and Ambulance Transport Service an exclusive franchise to run ambulance calls within the Pine Bluff city limits.

Galbraith asked the council at previous meetings to amend the ordinance so that his company could legally run ambulance calls originating in Pine Bluff, arguing that Pine Bluff is currently underserved and that competition would raise the quality of service for everyone.

EASI CEO Kenneth Starnes said that in the ambulance service industry, competition makes the environment more dangerous for customers, not better, and cited national, state and local sources, professional organizations and laws to support his position. Starnes argued that EASI has been operating in Pine Bluff for more than 40 years and has worked diligently to cooperate with JRMC and the fire department to streamline pre-hospital protocols and practices.

None of the City Council aldermen have taken up Galbraith’s request to change city ordinance.

Galbraith attended the March 5 City Council Public Safety Committee to again argue his cause, accusing both Starnes and Alderman Wayne Easterly of having conflicts of interest in the situation. Galbraith was apparently confusing Easterly and his profession with a former alderman, and committee Chairman Irene Holcomb stopped Galbraith from continuing his accusations about Starnes and others because they were not present to defend themselves.

Alderman Thelma Walker then asked Galbraith directly if he was making ambulance runs within the city limits — something he has said at previous meetings he would not do until the law was changed.

“We’re able to do calls in Pine Bluff now, but I refuse to do so until we get the council’s blessings,” Galbraith said in a article in January, and has made similar statements publicly since.

In response to Walker’s question on March 5, Galbraith said: “When we’re called by nursing homes at this point, yes we are. Several of the nursing homes, there’s four in the city and one outside the city in White Hall, most of them feel like the patient or the patient’s family has the right to determine who, what where, when and why,” Galbraith said, before going on to allege that other ambulance companies are also violating the city’s exclusive franchise ordinance.

Galbraith said he has taken on the expense of opening an office, employing people, and yet he is told he cannot do business.

“Maybe you should have checked the ordinance and things before you did that,” Walker said.

The committee asked City Attorney Althea Hadden-Scott for her guidance.

“You are not permitted to operate in the city limits,” Hadden-Scott said. “You are authorized to, for instance, the White Hall nursing home, if they choose to call you, you may transport into the city, but you may not transport from within the city anywhere within the city or outside.”

The proposed resolution on Monday’s council agenda would request that representatives from GEMS attend an upcoming council meeting so they can be present for the discussion as to whether the council should revoke or suspend the company’s occupation license for violating city ordinance. Walker is sponsoring the ordinance.

In other business, the council will consider:

• A proposed ordinance, up for its second reading, that would eliminate the fare on Pine Bluff Transit Department vehicles for passengers 62 years and older.

• Two proposed ordinances, up for their third and final readings, that would amend city zoning code to add more detail about codes concerning mobile homes, modular buildings, manufactured housing, prefabricated homes, portable storage containers, accessory buildings and recreational vehicles.

• A proposed ordinance, up for its first reading, that would waive competitive bidding and allow the city to execute a contract with Thomas and Thomas LLP for professional services. The accounting company would consult the city on the arbitrage rebate rules found in federal tax code involving with the $9.6 million capital improvements bonds approved by voters in February 2011 and $6 million bonds issued in 2009. The agreement would span several years, and the consulting fees would vary by year and the amount of time involved. Cost estimates provided by the company ranged from as low as $1,800 to as high as $6,700 per bond series per year. According to the proposed ordinance, competitive bidding can be waived because no other reputable and qualified firm capable of performing the work has been found in the area. Thomas and Thomas comes recommended by the city’s bond counsel.