by PJ Rooks
“I think every one of you ought to step down… you need to leave now – resign. Let other people step in here that are concerned about the taxpayers and their money!”
“Hopefully after this election, we take the lot of you out!”
Those are some of the comments made by several local taxpayers who are not pleased with the Northland Regional Ambulance District’s board of directors these days.
“You need to get your butt off this board as fast as you can get it.”
“There’s a whole lot of people behind me and not in this room that can’t stand you. I mean one hundred percent.”
They are even less pleased with the district’s board president --and they filled an NRAD meeting room Monday night to make their opinions known.
Their concerns come on the heels of a criminal charge against Kevin Rawlings, the NRAD board president. Rawlings is facing a misdemeanor charge of misuse of official information in the ambulance district’s purchase of 1.5 acres of land in the Camden Point area from him at a price roughly $145,000 higher than the property’s assessed value.
The district has said it intends to build an ambulance station on that property.
An investigation by the Platte County Sheriff’s Department and resulting charge by the Platte County prosecutor came after reporting of a timeline of NRAD events by The Landmark last year. Prosecutor Eric Zahnd and Sheriff Richard Anderson on Feb. 1 said the investigation began after both read about the coverage in The Landmark and viewed later reports on KSHB-TV news.
Facing a crowd, the NRAD board Monday night opened its monthly meeting with a motion to go directly into a closed session to discuss legal matters, then retreated behind closed doors as the meeting room continued to fill with community members and NRAD staff members.
“The board does take the events that have transpired seriously and upon the advice of our legal counsel, any questions directed to the board will be answered with a simple ‘No comment,’” announced board member Barry Turner when they emerged. “We are going to seek professional legal counsel in regards to this matter and upon resolution the board will, at that time, make a further statement. In regards to the development of the property in the Camden Point area, that has all been put on hold.”
Mark Hubbard, attorney for NRAD, noted to Turner that the board had not actually yet voted on that decision, but a unanimous vote later in the meeting made the hold official.
Meanwhile, Turner opened the floor for public comment.
Clint Rhodes, patron of the district, addressed the board first, stating that he wanted to see the resignations of both Rawlings and Hubbard as well as an early resignation from director Tom Taylor, who has already announced his plans to retire in June.
Rhodes said he intended to complain about Hubbard to the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel, which is an agency of the Missouri Supreme Court and is responsible for investigating allegations of misconduct by lawyers.
Rhodes called the land transaction a “crooked deal from the beginning” and, to Rawlings, added, “You bought this for the sole purpose of monetary gain,” said Rhodes of Rawlings’ original (April 2010) purchase of the agricultural property. “If I can figure out a way of getting the taxpayers behind me, maybe we’ll just sue you for taking our tax money.”
To NRAD director Tom Taylor, Rhodes said, “And you’ve resigned? Why don’t you go ahead and leave? We don’t like you anyhow… When I got on the fire department back in 1987 all I cared about was saving life and property. It’s not about spending money.”
Bill Edwards, former mayor of Dearborn, asked which board members had made and seconded the original motion to purchase the property. The minutes of the NRAD board meeting of Jan. 17, 2011 read, in part, as follows:
“Mr. Rawlings recused himself from presiding over this portion of the discussion and from participating in the vote held. Charlene Bruce presided over this portion of the meeting. The real estate contract for the district to purchase the real estate offered in the bid submitted pursuant to advertisement, as approved at the December 20, 2010 meeting, was reviewed. After review of the contract, Gordon Clark moved to approve the contract and authorize its execution on behalf of the district. Ginger Kroenke seconded the motion. All present voted in favor and the motion duly carried. The contract will be executed by Barry Turner on behalf of the district and attested by Charlene Bruce.”
After a conversation between several audience members and Hubbard making a comment to the effect of ‘not trying the case in the newspapers’ being the reason why board members had been advised not to speak, Kirby Holden said that since no one else was currently being investigated, he didn’t understand why the other board members couldn’t answer questions since it was an open meeting.
Holden last year filed a complaint with the Missouri Ethics Commission about NRAD’s deal with Rawlings. On Feb. 14 of this year, the Ethics Comission sent Holden a response saying: “This case was referred to the Platte County Prosecuting Attorney on June 24, 2011. On Feb. 9, 2012, the commission was informed that charges were filed against Kevin Rawlings on Feb. 1, 2012. The commission therefore closed the case.”
Monday night, Holden offered his opinion to the board during public comments:
“I agree with the rest of these people, this has been a crock,” Holden added. “I never knew much about the board. I knew you have good people working for you and we have a good ambulance service and for that, I appreciate it, but I’ve never in my entire life of 49 years seen anything that smelled as highly as this. I’ve never seen anything that anyone so boldly thought they could pull this off and nobody would be up here mad. I don’t know how you thought it was underneath the table, I don’t know if everyone was sleeping during the meeting when you voted -- don’t really know; don’t really care. But I agree with these people and if you really don’t understand why these people are upset then you’ve got a problem. You should feel bad and you should be ashamed.”
Another citizen said, “Before this deal ever got started, the city of Dearborn came down here and asked you all not to take the ambulance away from us. And you all, kind of your answer was that you couldn’t afford to put another ambulance on. Now it’s come out that you had all kinds of money. Evidently you had all kinds of places to get money on this land deal, so I don’t know.”
Asked who the board answers to, board member Gordon Clark did venture a response.
“I think we answer to the public. I’m sitting here and I want to be respectful because I’ve lived in this county for 17 years and I don’t want to see my name run through the mud and through the newspapers… I don’t want to see my name and things that I’ve done in this county and around here be run up a flagpole. I believe I acted in good faith. We can’t comment about specifics on what’s going on but if it’s proven through the court that that land won’t appraise for that much – it’s commercial real estate -- then we made a mistake. Maybe we didn’t have enough information like we should have had.”
NRAD did not have an appraisal of the property performed before voting to pay $175,000 for the 1.5 acres from Rawlings.
Clark pressed on in spite of a few snickers. He said he appreciated both the politeness and the comments of the assembled citizens.
“You’ve made some accusations and I think we’ve got to let the legal system in this situation take its course and then we’ll answer for whatever that process tells us. If we’ve made a huge mistake, I won’t have any problem resigning, but at this point, I don’t really think that I’ve done anything wrong… I’m not going to get into any details. I just wanted you to know that I think I did everything above board and with the information we had available, we did the right…”
“I’d say that is enough,” someone in the audience interjected.
Clark continued, “We’ve done a great service by taking the taxpayer’s money and yeah, we’ve put a lot of money away in the five years I’ve been here and we’ve been (fiscally) responsible for that money and we’ve been trying to build, and we built this (new station) and we tried to do the right thing by the public… We talked about it and what the trade off was for Dearborn and all that and you guys came down and told us what your concerns were and we acted on those concerns. And this, we think, because of the I-29 corridor is probably a good idea to do, but right now, we’ve stopped everything. We’ve got the plans. We’re going to roll them up and put them in the office and if this thing doesn’t come out right then we’re done with it and we’ll figure out how we’re going to go back and re-coup or whatever the legal system tells us to do.”
Jamie Morey said that as the mayor of Dearborn, he “catches all the slack with you pulling this ambulance out” and requested that board members talk to the local hospitals about how patients are moved from one location to another. The procedure in place now, he said, shuffles ambulances such that it leaves Dearborn without adequate coverage.
“So if somebody breaks their arm and needs a transfer from one hospital to the next, we’re out,” he said. “We have a heart attack up there (Dearborn), we lose a person because somebody could not repair them at a hospital that should be able to repair them.”
In a follow-up discussion, both Morey and former Dearborn mayor Bill Edwards said that NRAD representatives had been “knocking on doors” a few years ago and promising residents their own ambulance station as part of an incentive to vote for an increased tax levy.
“When you pull that ambulance out, are you going to knock on every door and apologize to them?” asked Morey.
Turner said that while the current board could not answer for the previous board, he was sure that they had not meant to mislead Dearborn residents but that he did not believe that the promised ambulance was intended exclusively for Dearborn.
Morey also said he’d heard that NRAD had been offered more territory, which would generate more revenue for the district. Morey said he’d heard the district had turned down the offer, but board members responded that it would be the job of those citizens to bring that to the board and that no one had come forward with such an offer.
Later, during a conversation about NRAD’s use of a third truck, Rhodes asked why the board didn’t use the $175,000 it had spent on Rawlings’ property on a car for a third paramedic instead.
“You want to move one (station) to Camden Point, you just said you’ve got a million dollars, put another crew on that sits right here,” said Rhodes.
“Don’t be confused, that’s just our budget for the year,” replied Clark.
“And that $175,000 you just spent at Camden Point, you could have put another car here,” said Rhodes. “I’m done with you all. I want to see resignations from every one of you.”
“You’re not getting mine,” Clark replied.
“Mine either,” replied Taylor.
“You can call it whatever you want, but I know facts and I wouldn’t buy a piece of land that I didn’t have an appraisal on. That’s just stupid business… You all are a bunch of jokes and I hope every one of you resigns or gets voted out, because if I had known this election was coming up, my butt would have been there,” Rhodes said, heading for the door.
In a teary-eyed conclusion to the meeting, board member Charlene Bruce addressed her only comment to NRAD employees, several of whom were present for the meeting.
“I’d just like to apologize to our employees,” she said, her voice breaking. “I know as you’re out making calls and answering the phone, you’re getting feedback. And it all stops right here. I don’t want it reflected in you guys at all. It’s right here, so I’m sorry.”