Effingham CO. (ECWd) -
When the public submits a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for records, it needs to be clear to everyone that the law is what outlines what is or is not obtainable and under what time frame it is to be provided. In Illinois, the law mandates that the public body has 5 business days to respond.
May 23rd, 2017, I submitted this FOIA in an effort to validate claims by the County Chairman that were also echoed by the attorney representing the county. Under the FOIA guidelines, my FOIA was due May 30th, 2017, which would have provided me with key information to address the County Board during their June meeting where they approved a contract with Abbott Ambulance.
The State's Attorney completed that FOIA request today, 12 business days beyond the time frame outlined by law and well beyond the time for anyone to present confirmation of false information they had been told regarding the ambulance selection process. More often than not, when FOIA requests are delayed or ignored there is a reason.
As our regular readers know, I always ask, "Says Who and With What Proof?" I ask those questions because I have been lied to so many times by both public officials and their legal counsel. More attorneys should start asking that question when they are told things by their client because when they don't validate the information, they end up spreading the lies of the public officials, thinking it's true.
The claim by the County Chairman Jim Niemann was that "the ambulance oversight committee vetted two ambulance services about 4 years ago, which is when this started". Claims by their attorney, Chris Koester, was that there was an extensive vetting process in the selection of the Ambulance service for the county.
The response received from my FOIA today, which had they followed the law and given it to me before the contract approval, we could have addressed what the public was told.
The fact of the matter, as confirmed by the State's Attorney, there was no vetting done.
"In response to FOIA request #4 from May 23, 2017, please find the following response from the County of Effingham (this answer is based on research and discussion had with all involved parties)."
"No formal vetting process (or guidelines) was created by either the County Board or the Ambulance Oversight Committee for the selection of an Ambulance Service for the County."
How convenient, that well after the public could have raised these concerns, they confirm excatly what we were told by others. The County of Effingham has leadership that has totally failed the public by selecting an ambulance operation, with close family ties to the Chairman, and did so without vetting any other ambulance, which should have ensured only the best is being provided to the people of Effingham County. (We asked the Chairman which was true, his claim they vetted or the State's Attorney's FOIA response that they had not. At time of publication we have not recieved a response. If and when we do we will update accordingly.)
As if this is not disturbing enough, we are now being told pressure was placed on Fire District Trustees to not take on an Ambulance service as well (and they have the legal right to), and if they did, they would be replaced as it is the County Board that appoints those officials. Is that a form of Intimidation by public officials?
What we have now identified is the following:
- County Leadership that has provided false information to the media, thus the public
- County officials that have violated the FOI Act
- County officials that have violated County Law
- County officials that have violated the Open Meetings Act
And for those that sounded the alarm well in advance of this whole Ambulance mess, we now have yet another piece of the puzzle that once again points to lies being told by Chairman Niemann of which his own words prove it.
To County Chair - June 12th, 2017 - Jim, Can you tell me who the primary 911 Emergency Ambulance Service provider was for Effingham County prior to the recent contract with Abbott?
Chairman Niemann-June 12th, 2017- "Altamont Ambulance Service"
My response June 12th, 2017 - If that is the case why would Abbott be notified that they are the 911 Emergency Ambulance Service Provider in April of 2017?
Chairman Niemann-June 12th, 2017: "Not sure what you are talking about other than the settlement agreement was passed prior to that and that agreement required Altamont and Abbot to commit to an agreement in order for the settlement to be in effect."
My response June 12th, 2017- "So it’s safe to say Abbott was not the 911 ambulance service provider prior to the final contract with the County Board?"
Chairman Niemann June 12th, 2017 -"Yes. They still aren't during the transition period. They are backing up Altamont until the hand off at the end of the transition period."
So it is clear, Effingham County Chairman has confirmed, without any doubt, Altamont Ambulance was the 911 Emergency Ambulance Service Provider prior to the contract entered into with Abbott in June of this year and even though we found no transition period language in the contract, he even says Altamont is the provider until the end of the transition period.
So we must ask, how can you believe the County Chairman when the paper trail tells a much different story?
When I referenced the April 2017 date in my questions to him it was for a reason. A reason that now proves the response from the Chairman has all the indications of being false, much like the claimed vetting that never took place.
April 6th, of 2017, Effingham County Chairman Niemann sends this letter to Mark Corely, Regional Director for AMR/Abbott at the St. Louis address. The letter appears addressed to them but may be a copy of communication to the STARCOM21 Advisory Sub-Committee. Either way, the contents are not true based on the words of the Chairman above.
What does he claim in this letter?
"Abbott EMS Is the primary 911 emergency ambulance service for the County as well as the provider for both emergency and non-emergency ambulance transportation for all healthcare facilities."
So can anyone in the County tell us under what authority the County Chairman informs a private ambulance operation and possibly the STARCOM21 Advisory Sub-Committee that Abbott EMS is the primary 911 emergency ambulance service for the county, especially since the contract putting them in that position was not approved by the County Board until June of this year?
I would suggest the citizens of Effingham wake up and realize things are not so rosy on the home front. When officials in our local government suppress information long enough that it's useless to influence the decision process they have abused their power in our opinion. All indications point to that being the case in Effingham County.