Kennesaw mayor denies conflict of interest in employer debate
by Megan Thornton
May 21, 2013 12:07 AM | 3900 views | 10 10 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print

A debate over ambulance service in Kennesaw has positioned the mayor, an employee of the city’s ambulance service provider, at odds with council members who want the city to be able to pick its own provider.

MetroAtlanta Ambulance Service began as the city’s provider last summer after a letter sent July 2 by the Georgia Department of Public Health informed the city it was not in compliance with state law. The letter said Kennesaw was required to use MetroAtlanta, the authorized EMS Region III provider, rather than Georgia EMS, the company it had used for the previous 14 years.

Mayor Mark Mathews, who has been employed as MetroAtlanta’s government relations manager since 2009, strongly opposed a draft resolution presented by councilmember Bruce Jenkins during last Wednesday’s work session. The resolution requested the Georgia EMS Region III board to put a formal request into the state Legislature to amend the state Constitution to allow cities to select their own ambulatory services.

Councilman Bruce Jenkins said Friday he was disappointed the mayor chose to participate in the discussion due to what he believed was a conflict of interest.

“I wish the mayor would have continued with his recusal and not participated in that section of the meeting,” Jenkins said.

A July 24, 2012 ethics board meeting dismissed an ethics complaint against Mathews alleging he had used his mayoral email account to conduct personal business and did not recuse himself from city business regarding his employer.

Mathews did not refer to either service by name during the work session, but he did discuss the history of the city’s decisions regarding ambulatory services during the 30-minute debate and vocalized his opposition to the proposal.

Mathews said he has previously recused himself when the city discussed specific services, including last summer when the council discussed the city’s change from Georgia EMS to Metro.

But on Wednesday, Mathews said he did not believe he had to recuse himself because he did not believe he was engaging in a conflict of interest.

“While it is not really necessary for me to recuse myself because the city does not contract with an ambulance provider, the city would not have been, was not going to be contracting with the company that I work for,” Mathews said. “There were some that decided to make that very political at the time, and so out of the best interest of everybody, I just went ahead and recused myself there.”

Mathews said the discussion was about cities being able to choose their providers.

“That has nothing to do with my employment,” he said. “That has nothing to do with my real-world job. It has to do with the city. So there was really no reason for me to not be involved with that conversation.”

Jenkins said he attended a recent EMS Region III board meeting and spoke with Chairman Dr. Jon Harvey, who recommended Jenkins come back with a resolution to the board showing full support by the mayor and council to move forward in the lengthy process of changing state law.

However, both the mayor and Mayor Pro-Tem Jeff Duckett opposed the resolution, so the council did not move forward with the measure and did not discuss it at Monday night’s regular meeting.

Councilwoman Cris Eaton-Welsh said she liked the proposal as it would provide the city more options if the level of service ever declines with the city’s ambulance provider.

“We’re at the mercy of the region board and it would be nice at the very least if we started to have these conversations about being able to (decide) what we want to do,” Eaton-Welsh said.

Eaton-Welsh also took issue with the city’s representation on the EMS Region III board, which determines the EMS provider for Cobb cities including Kennesaw.

“At the very least, I’d like to see us have some representation on that board,” she said. “The closest representative we have lives in Smyrna.”

Duckett, who is president of the Cobb Municipal Association, said the Region III board already takes care of doing what the resolution intended to do with more qualified representatives making the decisions.

“What qualifies us to determine what service is best?” Duckett asked. “There’s nobody in this room that knows what type of equipment they need, what certifications they need, what training they need. … That’s why they have a board made up of people that are in that line of work and know what they need to have to service a certain place.”

Jenkins said any service the city would choose would have to be state licensed and/or certified; a consideration the city always takes into account when contracting services.

“It wouldn’t be like us running the outfit, we would just contract it out and we would have a say,” he said. “And you want that right for your citizens.”

Duckett also worried about city liability if someone died, saying he would prefer to keep operations the same.

Jenkins recognized that the resolution would be the first in many steps, from the region board to the state level, and take quite a long time.

“We know how hard it is to get an amendment to a constitution,” he said.

Mathews questioned why the EMS Region III board would willingly give up its own authority and said the requested change “completely puts them (the board) out of business.”

“Your request is to put it back to where it was in the ’70s and let it become a free-for-all,” Mathews said, noting under the change, city governments could adopt services based on relationships rather than quality of service.

“It was just a race to the call and promoted a very dangerous environment,” he said of the time before the state handled EMS services.

Mathews added the board represents a cross-section of people in the ambulance industry and is set up in a very “common-sense approach.”

Eaton-Welsh said she planned to speak to Commissioner Brenda Fitzgerald with the Georgia Department of Public Health on the matter. The mayor took issue with Eaton-Welsh moving forward after the council failed to come to a consensus.

“It needs to be very clear that you are speaking as an individual and not a council member, which I think is not possible to do, because I think there’s no way to take that hat off, especially since you are dealing with a state agency,” Mathews said.

She told Mathews she was entitled to speak her opinion as a council member, but Mathews said she couldn’t represent the city in the interaction. The issue was dropped after it was apparent Eaton-Welsh would address the commissioner regardless of the warning.

Jenkins said Friday he won’t be backing down, either.

“At this point, I’ll continue to monitor and voice my perceptions and beliefs that municipalities need representation increased on the Zone III Council EMS board,” Jenkins said.

Comments-icon Post a Comment
May 21, 2013
It isn't worth a long response to such a clear issue:

If you have connected brain cells you know there IS a major conflict of interest with Mayor Mathews and the ambulance issue.

See, I just saved myself 20 minutes writing a long post and now I can go mow the lawn.
Be Careful
May 21, 2013
The Mayor claims no conflict and doesn't have to recuse himself because there is no "contract" between the city and the company he works for.

However, if you look up the issue, whether or not there is a contract is only part of the ethical debate. Another argument is does the person gain financially from the situation.

The Mayor works for a company that has a vested interest in the outcome of this debate.

He pays his mortgage from the salary, drives a car paid for by the company, with a company license plate on the front.

He DOES benefit financially from his arrangement. Therefore, in any duscussion regarding those types of services his company provides, he should recuse himself.

Be drfinition it IS a conflict of interest.
May 21, 2013
I would much rather have a board of qualified people in the medical field be the path of deciding on a EMS provider for a certain area or region as you say. I mean this Mayor and Council can't even decide what hat to wear on any certain day. I realize that all providers should be as well qualified and trained as the next, but that would require us humans to act and operate with the exact same mannerisms and professionalism. Also for us to all be honest and caring exactally the same. If they are all the same then how does only a very few receive awards and accolades for being the best? I have heard that Metro Atlanta has been awarded the best in the State or something like that. Sorry I don't agree that they are all just as qualified and just as good as the next. There are a lot of professions that are state certified and have to have specialized training and they do not all act, conduct themselves, or have the same work ethic as the next.

I don't know all the details, but it seems that the process is already set and working, why reinvent the wheel.

I really don't care what kind of hat you wear or if you even wear one, you guys all need to grow up and at least act like leaders and stop trying to force an issue that seems to be working well for Kennesaw and every other City. Do we not have the so called best now, what is your point and purpose?
Mayor not fooling us
May 21, 2013
It needs to be CLEARLY understood that Mayor Mathews works for a company that is opposed to cities picking their own services. That puts him in direct conflict with his duty to look out for the citizens of his city. It is a HUGE conflict of interest and he's not folling anybody. If a city can pick it's own provider, that reduces busines to his employer.

He tells Councilwoman Welsh that she can't take off her "council hat". Well, Mr. Mayor, you can't take off your employers hat. Your decisions are clouded by your employment to a service that fights home rule for cities. Their business depends on it.

It doesn't matter that the city has no contract with an ambulance service. You work for one, and you are duscussing ambulance services in the city. You should absolutely recuse youreslf from such discussions.

It is also painfully obvious that Mr. Duckett has no earthly idea what he's talking about.

All ambulance services must meet requirements set forth by the state. All EMT's and Paramdeics have to pass the same training courses and provide the state evidence of continuing education. All ambulance vehicles are inspected by the state and must carry the same equipment.

May 21, 2013
If the mayor can't talk about his industry how is it that Welch can be little miss fit city and NOT be reaping benefits and profit from her "council hat" promoting her business and being healthy??? .."You work for one, and you are duscussing ambulance services in the city." playing with the words..."You (Welch) OWN a Quackopractor facility and promote Fit City and 5k junk from and in your office..." What a joke!
May 21, 2013
What happens if you change two words in this sentence

"It needs to be very clear that you are speaking as an MAYOR and not a EMPLOYEE, which I think is not possible to do, because I think there’s no way to take that hat off, especially since you are dealing with a state agency”

May 21, 2013
stick to your guns mayor! The ethics board confirmed that there is no conflict. What's the current issue? ...Oh..I bet it's an election year! Let the showboating begin..
Stick to your guns?
May 21, 2013
Stick to your guns, that's the law in the 'saw!

Showboating?? it really seems more like our Mayor is on a sinking ship...the question is will his crew go down on the ship with their captain?
May 21, 2013
The Ethics Board are appointed by those they are to provide oversight for.

Their decisions mean little.
Kennesaw Citizen
May 21, 2013
It should have been made clear that the current Mayor, Mark Mathews, was the councilman that brought the original resolution to the city council 14 years ago. He directly cited a lack of quality service boarding on life threatening delayed response times.The city council at the time voted unanimously to seek another ambulance provider. The company at the time was AMR ambulance which was run by the very same people (Pete Quinones & Devon Seabaugh) who own and operate Metro Atlanta ambulance... currently Mayor Mathews new employer,.. and that the position of "Government Relations" , was created just for Mr. Mathews,...Also, until recently Mr. Pete Quinones aka: Vice President Southeastern Operations for AMR, President/CEO Metro Atlanta ambulance, Mayor Mathews Boss,..also sat as the Chairman of the "Region III EMS council board since it's inception in the early 80's. Effectively insuring that his companies stayed in control of the Cobb zones for over 3 decades...he is still on the zoning board to this day....You have to be blind not to see that the story is simple..If you can't beat them just "Buy" them, or in this case the politician...that is probably why the last 2 State Department of Human Resources EMS Directors are also employed at "Metro Atlanta ambulance" ... the last one being a Mr. Marty Billings... As for the current Kennesaw Mayor Pro Tem- Jeff Duckett agreeing with Mayor Mathews...really?? Why no mention that Mark Mathews is his neighbor there in Legacy Park, and was his campaign manager for his election?? Is it any wonder why Georgia is rated as the worst state for government corruption by ... What is so wrong about elected councilmen and women wanting representation on a board that chooses the companies who are entitled to recieve MILLIONS of yours and my tax dollars?
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