Once the Liberty Township Board of Trustees wrapped up 2019 organizational matters during its meeting on the Monday, discussions quickly shifted to the ongoing controversy involving turning over control of the township’s fire-based emergency medical services (EMS) to Delaware County.
Looking over the meeting’s agenda, Trustee Melanie Leneghan requested that three of the resolutions — one to hire a part-time firefighter/EMT, one authorizing a mailer to residents regarding the township’s EMS, and one to appoint Warren Yamarick, M.D., as the township’s medical director for 2019 — be removed from the agenda.
“Before we move on, I’m going to amend the agenda and table item 15, 16 and 24 to a date to be determined,” she said. “Can I get a second?”
Trustee Mike Gemperline offered the second.
However, Township Administrator Matt Huffman read two new resolutions later in the meeting that was not on Friday’s published agenda.
Resolution 19-0107-20 authorized Leneghan to be the liaison to the fire chief and the fire department.
Resolution 19-0107-22 authorized Leneghan to pursue a contract for the township’s medical director on behalf of the board of trustees.
Residents yelled “conflict of interest” to express their disapproval of the actions.
Gemperline informed the public that within the township’s recently revised comprehensive plan is a plan to form a fire district.
“I would like to move that we discuss the investigation of a fire district,” he said. “This is something I believe needs to be on the table as everyone has expressed great concern of potential changes. The only change that has been proposed is the very vague proposal from the Delaware County Commissioners, which I stated I would not approve as it is stated, but the bigger issue on the strategic growth plan of Liberty Township is for us to move to a fire district.
Gemperline said such a move would “entail eliminating the township’s fire and EMS.”
“Every firefighter and EMS person would no longer have a job, because the department would no longer exist,” he said.
Leneghan said that the fire district was an initiative of Trustee Shyra Eichhorn, who has been a proponent of keeping the fire-based EMS under control of the township.
“I have no interest in a fire district,” Leneghan said. “She said she was interested in a fire district and asked it to be put on the strategic plan.”
Gemperline moved to have the fire district removed from the strategic plan, to which Leneghan seconded the motion. Both trustees approved the removal of the fire district plan.
Eichhorn, who was away on business Monday, posted a statement to her Facebook page.
“I want to take a moment and address the 2016 strategic plan that had a Fire District on it,” she states. “A (Liberty Township Fire Department) member had explained possible advantages of a Fire District to all three of us — Trustee Leneghan, Trustee Mitchell and myself. I do not recall me personally putting the (Fire Department District) on the plan, but there were many items that were listed for possible exploration.”
Eichhorn said once she returns, she will review the audio and notes on the comprehensive plan.
“Regardless, this is obviously something we never ended up proceeding with, and I am more focused on the actions that are taking place in 2019,” Eichhorn states. “Actions where our residents’ wishes are being completely ignored and safety/medical experts are being ignored. I can’t thank everyone enough for your continued support for our local Township fire-based EMS, which is the best model for our community.”
Once public comment was open, Karrie Dailey, a resident of the township, stood at the lectern and read an email dated Dec. 4, 2018, to Delaware County Administrator Mike Frommer from Leneghan.
“I for one feel more convinced that Liberty Township will be much better off and much safer with Delaware County EMS,” Leneghan’s Dec. 4 email states. “I would like to start by hiring your medical director as of January 1. …My next step would be to ‘test’ DCEMS and ask for a three-man medic at either station to take the place of our medic.”
Powell resident Sarah Marie Brenner, wife of state Sen. Andrew Brenner, also spoke to the trustees Monday. She said she considers herself a friend to all three trustees, but she pleaded for complete transparency from the board as a whole.
“When you have something this serious and this many people who are against what they think is about to happen, you’ve got to stay transparent,” she said. “By putting one person in charge of those conversations you’re taking all of that transparency away.”
Brenner told the trustees that everything didn’t need to be behind closed doors, and she encouraged them to hold conversations with prospective medical directors in public meetings.
Tom Hedge, a resident of the township since 1992, pointed out that the two new resolutions were approved by Leneghan and Gemperline without their prior knowledge or discussion about their content.
“It’s a big mistake, because I believe you, Mike, told people coming into this meeting that items on the agenda were new to you, yet you made a decision without hearing input from your public,” Hedge said.
Hedge also stated he didn’t understand why it had to be Leneghan to be the liaison to the fire chief and fire department, and the lone person to pursue a contract with a medical director.
“It should be done by election,” Hedge stated before relinquishing control of the lectern. “It’s the only way.”
After Leneghan moved to end public comment, a resident protested by shouting, “We’re going to vote you out.”
Persuaded by the crowd’s response, Leneghan decided to continue with public comments. During the comment portion, however, Yamarick, who was attempting to address the trustees, was escorted out of the building by a sheriff’s deputy.
Residents wanted to know why Yamarick was not permitted to speak in the meeting.
“It’s an executive decision,” Leneghan told them.
In the hall, Yamarick said, “It’s a violation of my first amendment rights.”
No action was taken following the public comment portion of the meeting.
The Liberty Township Board of Trustees will next meet at 7 p.m. on Jan. 22 in township hall.
Contact D. Anthony Botkin at 740-413-0902. Follow him on Twitter @dabotkin.