Tuesday, November 25, 2014

McCormick in Torrance: Rizzo Speaks

Geoff Rizzo

After the controversial four-three vote in favor of the McCormick ambulance contract, I contacted Geoff Rizzo, one of the council members who voted in favor of replacing Gerber Ambulance with a new emergency medical provider.

He offered to sit down with me a discuss the matter. We ended up talking for three hours, and his take on the issue was enlightening on many levels. I was really impressed that he took the time to explain the ins and outs of his decision, and the complications -- legal, financial, and political -- behind the decision.

Why did you vote for the McCormack Contract?

Based on the evidence I had at hand, what was on the agenda, were we voting for a new ambulance contract. Yes, the campaign and politics muddied the waters, clouded the issue. What we had was a business decision. What was in the best interests of the citizens of this community?

We had a situation where Gerber Ambulance Service served two notices of default on under the contract. There was a default in 2013.  The council has nothing to do with the administration of the contract. My understanding was based on the evidence in front of me.

In  the2013 letter of default sent to Gerber, some of those issues under the letter were faulty equipment, failure to have interface computer-aided dispatch system. The City has its own for the fire department. Under the terms of contract, Gerber was suppose to have established an interface between the two systems, so that the two cad systems could talk to each other, so that every one would know what was going on. The purpose was got get real time stamps.

 Real time stamps would allow the city to determine if the ambulance service was answering calls in an efficient and timely manner, and improving on their times.

The equipment issues included units not available, bald tires, paramedics had determined that defective brakes on one of the ambulance units. I can't give you specifics. These deficiencies were reported by the Torrance Fire Department, since Torrance Fire evaluates contractor on their performance.

I mentioned concerns from Torrance community members that the Torrance Fire Department was trying to make emergency medical response services an in-house department. Rizzo pointed out that there has been discussions about this change, but there are many service models which the city of Torrance is looking into.

Is the McCormick contract going to cost the city or save the city money?

This switch is revenue neutral. We are not making or losing money.

How did the city council end up with McCormick?

Rizzo detailed a lengthy bidding process, which Councilwoman Ashcraft confirmed for me.

The city released requests for proposal to thirty-two ambulance companies, drawing from a list provided by the LA County Health department. Of the thirty-two contacted, only four responded.

Heidi Ashcraft

Councilwoman Ashcraft asked "why only four?" at the meeting, Rizzo pointed out in our conversation.

Most of the ambulance providers contacted did not have emergency services. Of the four, Gerber was disqualified because they did not provide audited financial statements. This part of the proposal was crucial to the council's final decision, Rizzo told me, because they needed to know that Torrance would be working with a solvent company, and would not have to scurry around for another provider if the company suddenly went out of business.

The three companies which remained candidates for the city contract were:

AmeriCare: has 18 years of experience, corporation founded in 1996, still owns 100%  serves(Carson)

Care -- 45 years of experience, in 2010 acquired and became subsidiary (Orange)

McCormack (WestMed) -- 50 years, CEO is Near Torrance,

Rizzo then explained to me the rating process for the three remaining companies

We were not on the evaluation committee. They are from city staff: representatives from the city financial, communications (CIT), and two reps from the fire department: EMS Coordinator, Senior Admin analyst. 

I was skeptical of the rating process, since two of the individuals involved were connected to the Fire Department. Rizzo explained to me that the EMS coordinator and the senior analyst are part of two different bargaining units, as well as the finance and communications representative on the evaluation committee. He was not convinced that Mayor Furey was involved in any improprieties or influence on this contract.

Mayor Pat Furey
Documents provided are reviewed and scored independently on various categories. I would have to go back and look at the record to give you details. In the council items, it will show some of the scoring, the various aspects of the proposal. Each of the raters will give an independent score, then take the average of the four scores. McCormack had the best score.

Regarding the political controversies surrounding the McCormick bid, Rizzo reminded me that he had received no campaign contributions from Gerber or McCormick, while other members on the city council had received donations from Gerber. If campaign donations had served as the final arbiter for who could vote, Rizzo would have been the only member voting on the contract.

I go no money from Gerber or McCormack. Did I have conservations with Gerber and McCormack prior to the hearing? Yes.

He then explained what would have happened if the council voted down McCormick:

Let's say we vote no, and we extend the Gerber contract for six months. What if because of the deficiencies listed in the default letters, someone is injured or killed? What is the exposure of the city of Torrance for a lawsuit, knowing full well that there were performance issues with contractor?

For Rizzo, liability concerns were a major factor in choosing McCormick.

It's a twelve month contract. We don't want to get stuck with the same issues. We need this vital service. Gerber had issues, was deficient in its contract. To have Gerber continue to provide would have opened us to huge liability. I had agonized over the decision. We got the packages on Friday, November the 15th for reviewing, We received supplemental info on Monday. Much of the supplemental to solidify questions.

Even when the city sent advanced notice to Gerber that Torrance was not extending their contract, the company did nothing to changer their operations. They had at least three months before the November vote to get their financials audit in order, too. The fact that Gerber has a recorded history of default, whether valid or not, would have opened the city of Torrance to greater liability, too.

Our extended discussion about the contract change revealed to me the conflicts inherent in the decision-making process for city council members. Gerber was a city agency, well-known to the community, had served Torrance for nearly thirty years. It was an emotional night when the city council chose a different emergency provider, and by a slim vote.

Then the local press reports allegations of pay-for-play, indicating the independent expenditures on behalf of Pat Furey. Insinuations from the latest editorial suggest a personal rivalry between the Daily Breeze and the mayor. Other reports have informed me that the  mayor will sue the newspaper for defamation very soon.

Having discussed the matter with Rizzo, I understand why he wanted to take the time to explain at length his decision-making process. From all the paperwork he had to read, to the discussions with other council members and city leaders, to the potential consequences of continuing with Gerber, Rizzo confided that there were a number of issues to factor in when voting for McCormick for a twelve-month contract.

As a constituent, I told Rizzo that the city needs to invest in a different evaluation process for current emergency providers, to ensure that city councils receive an independent review for current and future providers. He agreed with me, and affirmed that the council would be looking into that matter later on.


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