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EMS union calls for Levy to resign from Public Safety panel

Tuesday, February 26, 2013 by Michael Kanin

Ongoing worries about the management of the Austin Travis County Emergency Medical Services appear to have turned into a political squabble in advance of negotiations for a new contract for service field personnel.


The immediate result is a call from Austin Travis County EMS Employees Association president Tony Marquardt for Public Safety Commission Vice Chair Mike Levy to resign his position. The 14-member Association board of directors was ready to echo Marquardt’s call Monday evening.


Marquardt told In Fact Daily Monday that though not all votes were in, he anticipated a unanimous vote in support of his call for Levy’s resignation.


Longer-term questions over a heated political situation with management of two key regional services – complete with questions about public safety – remain.


In Fact Daily obtained a chain of email correspondence between Levy and Marquardt that details the back-and-forth.


On Friday, Levy circulated a letter from the head of the Austin Firefighters Association, Bob Nicks, that invites the EMS employees group into negotiations that would contemplate consolidation of the two services. He added his own commentary, saying, “(Austin-Travis County) paramedics, amongst the very best in the country, would be working in a significantly more professionally managed organization, with appropriate benefits and career ladders.”


However, Marquardt said Monday that Nix’ invitation was a formality – a necessity for the two organizations to discuss the possibility of service consolidation, just in case it happens. “(It’s) part of a contingency plan,” he said.


Marquardt added that Levy was not only jumping the gun with his email, but also using his position on the commission to “push his agenda.”


In response to Marquardt, Levy said he and his colleagues were concerned with patient well being above all other issues. “Our responsibility is to the community and to the patients,” he said.


Levy helped found the Austin Travis County Emergency Medical Service in 1976. He has been a vocal critic of current service management both from his position on the commission, and in frequent emails to city observers.


What appears to be a renewed offensive by Levy was highlighted at a January meeting of the City Council’s Audit and Finance Committee. There, Levy told Council members, “there is a malignancy in the department,” pointed at poor management, and openly suggested that it all could bring degradation in patient care. (See In Fact Daily, Jan. 25, 2013.)


Nicks’ letter takes three paragraphs to highlight multiple plaudits about the service provided by members of each association. He notes that, with November voter approval of a civil service system for EMS employees, “both organizations are now properly lined up to discuss the possibility of future consolidation.”


“We believe that a combined system would greatly benefit the citizens we serve by reducing administrative costs,” Nicks continued. “Further, a combined workforce would greatly benefit the members of both organizations through improved benefits and pension programs, reduction in workplace burnout and a shared command structure.”


Nicks said the negotiations were “very premature.” He added that it is important that the discussion remain in the hands of the two unions for now.


In an email he sent out after Levy circulated Nicks’ letter, Marquardt wrote that this was, indeed, the case. “This would be a proactive approach, in the event that a push toward merger would come from the outside, and build the grounds for future talks,” he wrote. “We fully intend to bargain our contract independently and will remain an autonomous entity.


“We will be glad to hold open forums if the day were to come that an (EMS) and AFD merger were likely to occur,” Marquardt continued. “This is not an immediate horizon issue for the…Association and is currently a part of our contingency planning for long-term issues.”


Marquardt continued to defend that position in an email to Council members. He went so far as to suggest that Levy’s email was not, as he wrote, “news worthy.”


“I apologize for the email from Mike Levy, addressing a letter relevant to consolidation, as I had prepared an update for Council on this matter,” Marquardt wrote. “The merger letter is not considered to be news worthy, as nothing more than contingency planning is taking place. Mr. Levy does not represent the views of the ATCEMS Association, or the interests of the frontline staff.”


Levy got a hold of that email, and fired off a response to Marquardt asking him to explain what he meant. Marquardt responded with some heat of his own.


“As evidenced here, and by all recent activities related to your opinions of EMS, it is apparent that you lack the capacity to serve responsibly on the Public Safety Commission. It is clear that you are on a course to divide our membership and dismantle ATCEMS for your personal agenda,” Marquardt wrote.


“I am disappointed that you are on this course. Over the years you have been beneficial to EMS, and you have been detrimental to it. It seems these days you can’t chose a side, or stick with one. It’s a shame,” he continued before landing on his intended message. “I ask that you resign from the Public Safety Commission and find something positive to dedicate yourself to. But I suspect this is asking too much, so a resignation will do.”


The association-approved document was more measured. “In recent Public Safety Commission meetings, you have held up vital conversations to public safety by marginalizing important EMS issues and have inadvertently, or intentionally, interfered with our ongoing initiatives to add much needed resources to keep up with the needs of the Travis County Community. This behavior is not helpful to our community, the public safety mission, or the frontline staff of ATCEMS,” it reads.


It then echoes Marquardt’s basic appreciation for Levy’s efforts with regard to regional emergency medical service over the years and notes the Association’s role in Levy’s appointment.


“(The Association) was instrumental in your appointment to the Public Safety Commission at a time when many had reservations over your involvement. Due to your recent activities we no longer have that trust or faith in your ability to serve with the integrity and responsibility required of this advisory group,” it reads.


“At this time, we respectfully ask that you resign your position on the Public Safety Commission.”


Levy was circumspect. He referred to the commission’s recent action calling for gun control. “If they want my resignation, they can get in line behind a lot of other people,” he told In Fact Daily.


He said that the association does not “understand that we work for the community…They’re having a childish temper tantrum.”


Council Member Mike Martinez, who is a former head of the Firefighters’ Association, did not return a call requesting comment. (Council Member Chris Riley appointed Levy. The original post incorrectly stated that Martinez had appointed Levy.)

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