Tuesday night’s agenda for the meeting of Powell City Council looked light and uneventful. However, it was what didn’t show up on the agenda that ruled the night. Residents from Powell and Liberty Township showed up in droves to plead with council members to take action against the controversial proposal before the Liberty Township Board of Trustees to hand emergency medical services (EMS) over to Delaware County.
The unofficial public hearing came on the heels of Monday’s Liberty Township Board of Trustees meeting, which saw hundreds of residents show up to vehemently oppose the proposal. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, more watched the Monday meeting via a live stream.
Dr. Warren Yamarick, the medical director for the township since 1990, was the first to approach the podium to address the council on Tuesday. He said that since taking over as the director, the men and women of the Liberty Township Fire Department have worked hard to become “an elite, highly recognized, and knowledgeable leader in EMS care.”
Yamarick cited the township’s 2011 State EMS Provider of the Year award as proof of what has been built in the township since 1990. He also said he has never been reached out to for any discussion about the best way to provide medical care in the community.
“When somebody wants to change how the structure of EMS is provided … that affects patient care, and the health and welfare of every one of our citizens,” Yamarick said. “If you do that, wouldn’t it be in our best interest and your best interest that whoever is in charge of doing that talk to the medical director of over 35 years, who is responsible for the patient care that is provided in this county?”
Liberty Township Trustee Shyra Eichhorn said, “In all of the years that I have been a trustee, I’ve never come before (Powell City Council), and we have a high deal of respect between us that you have matters you vote on, we have matters we vote on … However, this is a very different kind of situation. We’re not talking about an apartment complex. We’re not talking about a new housing development. We’re talking about the safety and well-being of all of our residents.”
Eichhorn told the council they need to get involved and said, “I know if I were you, I would want a seat at the table.”
Once the public comment session was closed, Mayor Jon Bennehoof kicked off council’s comments by pointing out he has made his stance of opposition clear in prior meetings involving the EMS proposal.
Vice Mayor Tom Counts said the most important thing is to “speak out as quickly as we can before there is any kind of action that is taken, which leads us down a road that isn’t appropriate.” Counts was referring to the next Liberty Township trustees meeting being scheduled to take place before the next Powell City Council meeting.
Of his own personal stance on the proposal, Counts said he has always been skeptical of the proposal and the pace with which it is being pushed along needs to be slowed down considerably.
“I look at this issue in two different ways,” Councilman Daniel Swartwout said. “I look at this issue both as a council member with constituents who have overwhelmingly told us that they oppose any changes to our fire and EMS model that we currently have … I also look at this issue as many of the folks (at the meeting) do, as a family who is a ‘frequent flyer’ for Liberty Township Fire and EMS.”
Swartwout shared the story of his sister-in-law, who once suffered a massive stroke, but said that because of the excellent work of Liberty Township Fire and EMS, she is still able to stay in the home with her child.
“It pains me to think of any changes that could come to that, that would separate that family, because that’s what we’re talking about,” Swartwout said. “We’re talking about danger. We’re talking about separating families. We’re talking about minutes — crucial minutes — and seconds that matter. We have such a great system that we have now, I see no reason to change it.”
He went on to say that since catching wind of the vote by the county commissioners to send the proposal to Liberty Township, he has done everything he can to look at any and all alternatives the city can take to save Liberty Township’s EMS.
“I am committed to that now, and I will be committed to that ongoing,” he concluded.
Bennehoof offered the final comments of the night, echoing the sentiments of his fellow council members and presenting an emphatic and clear picture of where the city stands on the issue.
“I am in full support of the fire and EMS as it exists in Liberty Township, and I am in full support of the people who think that since 74.79 percent of the township and 78 percent of the population of Powell voted in favor of the last levy, that we ought just not fix something that isn’t broken,” Bennehoof said.
He added, “Everyone (on council), and Shyra (Eichhorn) and her colleagues, has taken an oath of office to protect the health, safety, and welfare of our communities, and I’ll be damned if I ever violate one of my oaths.”
With that, Counts moved that “this council be resolved to oppose the current plan by Liberty Township trustees.” He added motions to “show support and, with gratitude, express our appreciation to the Liberty Township fire and EMS staff” and asked that city staff prepare a formal resolution and “help council with identifying items and measures that the city can take to fulfill these resolutions that we’re taking.”
The motions were seconded by Bennehoof and approved without hesitation by each council member. Following the vote, the council members received a standing ovation from the residents in attendance.
The next Liberty Township Board of Trustees meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 17, with Powell City Council next scheduled to meet the following day, Dec. 18.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @ddavis_gazette.