Image: The operation of these extraordinarily expensive vehicles is extraordinarily expensive. Apparently, the Montgomery County Hospital District’s administration doesn’t care.
Conroe and College Station, January 17 – Several high-level employees of the Montgomery County Hospital District (MCHD) have complained to The Golden Hammer, Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper, and to the MCHD Board of Directors about the fact that the District, by sending Emergency Medical Service (EMS) vehicles and crews to College Station during Texas A&M University football games, are skirting Texas law, costing taxpayers large amounts of money, and creating unnecessary liability risk for Montgomery County taxpayers. For approximately the past ten years, MCHD has sent EMS vehicles to College Station during the football games in order to cover 9-1-1 calls in the municipality.
Violations of Texas Government Code
MCHD has failed to comply with Section 418.109 primarily, it turns out, because Chief Executive Officer Randy Johnson and the EMS staff never informed the MCHD Board or the District’s general counsel of what they were doing.
Government Code Section 418.109 concerns “Authority to Render Mutual Aid Assistance” and provides:
A local government entity or organized volunteer group may provide mutual aid assistance on request from another local government entity or organized volunteer group. The chief or highest ranking officer of the entity from which assistance is requested, with the approval and consent of the presiding officer of the governing body of that entity, may provide that assistance while acting in accordance with the policies, ordinances, and procedures established by the governing body of that entity.
While it’s clear that Johnson, MCHD’s CEO knew about the EMS vehicle travel to College Station during football games, neither Johnson, EMS Director Jared Cosper, or any staff member ever informed the MCHD Board of Directors about the practice until very recently.
In response to this newspaper’s request for the minutes of the MCHD Board reflecting approval of the practice, MCHD responded:
“None, mutual aid agreement was not taken to a board meeting for approval.”
Several high level employees of MCHD spoke with The Golden Hammer and expressed their concerns about the practice. They requested anonymity for fear of reprisal from Johnson and pro-government members of the MCHD Board.
One high-level MCHD employee told this newspaper:
“MCHD pays big time overtime for the empty trucks to be filled while they send trucks to College Station every weekend by for the Aggie games. Not even in our county! Jared Cosper (EMS Director) has been doing this awhile (he’s part of the Aggie EMS group), but apparently they are so short handed this weekend that Supervisors are having to fill in the open shifts which means they are being paid their rate to be on a truck or having to pay OT to other medics to fill in. OR, leaving the county short handed. This has been an ongoing issue that the supervisors are pretty upset about, but no one will do anything to stop it.”
“The County has been short on trucks during this time of year [October] because of this on many occasions. Several Supervisors were complaining about it yesterday. They have been unable to fill open spots for this weekend.”
On December 17, 2018, another MCHD employee whose identity this newspaper has confirmed sent the email below to the four Montgomery County Commissioners: Mike Meador, Charlie Riley, James Noack, and Jim Clark.
MCHD clearly spends enormous tax dollars spewing propaganda in the form of favorable press releases that try to justify the massive spending practices of the Hospital District. When the Courier blog runs a favorable story about MCHD, some of the more liberal members of the MCHD Board openly celebrate the propaganda victory.
MCHD, of course, didn’t release the “Jane Doe” email.
Of far greater concern, however, is that MCHD didn’t provide to the public a secret email which MCHD Chief Executive Officer Randy Johnson sent to the entire MCHD Board of Directors on January 10, 2019, in apparent violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act. In the secret email, Johnson tried to respond to the points which “Jane Doe” raised:
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s Open Meetings Handbook 2018 warns that “deliberation” or “discussion” under the Texas Open Meetings Act’s criminal provisions “may also include an exchange of written materials or electronic mail.”
MCHD’s CEO Johnson should clearly have known better than to send an email of such substantive concern to the entire MCHD Board of Directors only nine (9) days ago.
In response to a Texas Public Information Act request, Donna Daniel, the MCHD Board liaison (a strange position since the Board should always have direct access to the entire District staff), responded to this newspaper’s request for “The contract, if any, between the District and any entity whereby the District provides ambulance or emergency medical services to Texas A&M University football games.” Daniel’s response was:
“None, verbal agreement in conjunction with draft agreement prepared by [former MCHD CEO] Allen Johnson from September 2006. We were unable to locate an executed copy of the 2006 agreement.”
Spending problem and risk issues
After hearing the employee complaints, The Golden Hammer sought to find whether MCHD’s executive staff or anyone else there has examined the amount of money these excursions to Texas A&M University football games cost Montgomery County taxpayers. This newspaper requested, “Records reflecting the expense to the District for the provision of such services, if accounted for discretely from other ambulance or emergency medical services in the District’s accounting books during Fiscal Year 2018 and during Fiscal Year 2019.”
The answer from the District’s Donna Daniel was nothing short of bizarre:
“MCHD does not account for expense.”
As Johnson suggested in his email response to the MCHD Board of Directors and “Jane Doe,” MCHD has booked the revenue the District has received during Fiscal Years 2018 and 2019 under the illegal interlocal “agreement”:
“FYE 2018 $10,388.00, amount MCHD has recorded for Revenue
“FYE 2019 $6,622.00, amount MCHD has recorded for Revenue.”
MCHD Board of Directors member Bob Bagley echoed the concerns of “Jane Doe” and several of the EMS employees that “from a risk management standpoint, this practice is something we need to rethink.” Without a valid interlocal agreement under the Texas Government Code to authorize MCHD’s practice of providing emergency medical services in College Station during Texas A&M University football games, there clearly are questions what legal risk the District places upon the shoulders of Montgomery County taxpayers if something were to happen.
The concerns the EMS employees above raised, however, are not only about what might happen on one of the College Station excursions. If, in fact, MCHD finds itself “short handed” for weekend shifts inside Montgomery County among the poor employees “left behind” when the others go to College Station, if something were to occur due to the staff shortage, MCHD would clearly fall short of its primary duty to provide services inside of this community.
Board member Brad Spratt said, “my biggest issue with this practice is that we were doing this without a written contract. I’ve discussed the issue with Randy [Johnson, CEO]. We need a written contract for protection and liability. We are covered under state mutual aid agreements, but we should have as much coverage as possible which we’ll get from a contract.” Spratt added, “We need to make sure Montgomery County is taken care of first.”