EMS chief gets vote of confidence

Wednesday, May 26, 2010
County leaders on the Emergency Medical Service Committee discuss issues raised about the county owned ambulance service.

Marshall County's Emergency Medical Service director received a unanimous vote of confidence last week when a committee of county commissioners revoked a requirement that he become a county resident.

EMS Director James "Jamie" Whorley was hired two summers ago with a recommendation from the EMS Committee that he move to Marshall County within a year. Whorley has not moved from his home in Shelbyville, but that doesn't matter to members of the committee now.

Commissioner Jimmy Stitt asked the committee to discuss its two-year-old preference because, he said, he received an anonymous letter pointing out the committee's 2008 decision. The letter also included allegations of sports betting at the EMS office on South Ellington Parkway. Stitt normally ignores anonymous letters, he said, but the allegation of criminality prompted him to make inquiries and provide the letter to law enforcement.

Committee discussion focused more on the residency requirement for Whorley who said the allegations about gambling were offensive and, he added, "hurt my feelings." He's unaware of sports betting at the county ambulance service and if he knew of it, he'd have stopped it.

County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett told the committee that he, too, received a copy of the anonymous letter and followed advice from a colleague to make his own inquiries about allegations of gambling.

While comparatively little was said about the allegation of gambling, committeemen, including Jimmy Wolaver, dismissed it as not worth pursuing since the source was anonymous.

As for the conflict between Whorley's address and the requirement that he live in this county, Liggett said, "None of this had to happen."

Appointment of the EMS director is a mayoral duty, but Liggett decided to share the power or include the committee in the decision.

"I chose to go to the Career Center (at Columbia State Community College's Lewisburg campus) to get the best candidate," Liggett told the committee. "The man in that chair (Whorley) was the best for the position."

Still, in 2008 Liggett took the matter to the EMS Committee in an apparent attempt to improve or maintain good relations with commissioners.

"This committee did it," Liggett said of imposing the residency requirement. "It can undo it."

Liggett had consulted the county attorney on the current situation. Her recommendation was for committee action.

Commissioner Seth Warf reported his recollection of the discussion in 2008: "We didn't want to make it a short six months... There was a time-line set...we didn't want to make it an economic hardship...""

Commissioner Wilford "Spider" Wentzel asked if the economy had improved.

Liggett: "Economic times haven't changed... It came from the committee. The committee can change it."

Stitt: "The committee didn't do anything about it" after the year passed.

Wolaver: "Jamie (Whorley) came to me a couple of times about not moving. It's up to this committee to decide if it's an ultimatum to make him move... I would like to see Jamie move into the county when it's financially feasible..."

Several commissioners praised Whorley's performance as director.

Wolaver moved to remove the requirement, Commissioner Tony White seconded the motion.

Concerns were raised about whether Whorley should be allowed to commute to and from EMS headquarters in a county vehicle, and the director confirmed that he does so on occasion and that he pays income taxes on that benefit.

As that point was made with an endorsement that Whorley move to the county, Spivey spoke up for cost cutting, but did so in a way that drew a retort from Commissioner Mary Ann Neill.

"Your attitude is offensive," Neill said.

She and Spivey are not always allies on county issues and procedures.

"You can find fault in any county department," Liggett interjected.

Committeemen acknowledged that if the anonymous letter had not been sent, then the residency requirement wouldn't have become a topic for the committee.

The fact that it was sent anonymously was criticized as cowardly.

The allegation of gambling was refuted with denials and, after the eventual vote to remove the residency requirement, Whorley said that if he'd been aware of sports betting at the ambulance stations, then he'd have stopped it.

White asked if Whorley signed a contract. He had not. Without a contract, the issue didn't have to go to the commission that was scheduled to meet Monday night, White said.

Commissioner Reynelle Peacock-Smith presided as chairman of the committee and announced the panel's vote on the motion to drop the requirement as 5-0. Voting were Spivey, Stitt, Wentzel, White and Wolaver.

After the vote count, Whorley said, "To accuse me of things that are false hurts my feelings. If I knew, it would stop. I would love to find the person who sent the letter."

Liggett said the Department of Health requires a regular audit of county ambulance services and no deficiencies had been found during Whorley's watch.

"All records were found to be accessible and in order," Liggett said. "Folks, it's been a long time since we've had an audit like this."

Whorley's predecessor resigned under a cloud of suspicion, but no charge has been issued.

While the committee's discussion focused more on a now-non-existent residency requirement than an allegation of betting on sports events, an early part of the discussion cast a cloud over the entire issue and it wasn't cleared that night.

Wentzel asked when county commission committees reorganized. Annually, committee assignments are changed by a Steering Committee so responsibility is shared and experience is icreased.

"This couldn't have happened with me here because I wasn't on the EMS Committee," Wentzel said.

Stitt explained that a consensus had been reached on the idea to require county residency during a meeting before the vote.

"Ever who wrote this couldn't be right," Wentzel said.

Discussion among the current EMS committeemen indicated that the record viewed that evening states that Wentzel seconded Warf's motion for a residency requirement.

"It doesn't have any bearing on it," Spivey said and the committee discussion soon turned to the anonymous letter. The Marshall County Tribune received one in the mail. Stitt and Liggett said they did too.