After change of heart, Bernard lets union-represented AMR keep Clackamas County ambulance contract

Clackamas County Commissioner Jim Bernard has had a change of heart and will vote to award the county’s emergency ambulance service to American Medical Response (AMR).

At a commissioners work session Feb. 4, Bernard proposed that the county negotiate a new ambulance contract with AMR. He was supported by Commissioners Martha Schrader and Paul Savas, and opposed by Chair John Ludlow and Commissioner Tootie Smith.

About 140 paramedics, emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and dispatchers are members of Teamsters Local 223.

AMR won the open bidding process on April 24, 2013, as it was the only company to submit a proposal. Nonunion rival Metro West Ambulance had a bid prepared, but missed the filing deadline.

Commissioners voted 3-2 in May to “issue an intent to award” the contract to AMR, with Bernard and Ludlow dissenting. AMR then entered into negotiations with county staff and other stakeholders and came to terms on a final contract.

But when Savas and Schrader tried to move the contract forward, they were opposed by Ludlow and Smith. Bernard abstained from voting, leaving the board deadlocked at 2-2. In recusing himself, Bernard claimed he had been “threatened” by AMR: An email by AMR General Manager Randy Lauer said he would raise money to back a candidate to run against Bernard and refers to Bernard as “enemy #1.”

AMR and the Teamsters Union think that Bernard — a former mayor of Milwaukie and the board’s longest-serving member (since 2008) — orchestrated putting the ambulance service contract out for bid in 2012. AMR has held the ambulance service contract in Clackamas County since 1993.

Bernard, who is up for re-election this year, denies the allegation.

The board’s inaction spurred residents of Clackamas County and employees of AMR to attend weekly commission meetings and work sessions, where they pressed commissioners to finalize the contract. The county’s Emergency Medical Services Council and all of the county’s fire departments agreed that AMR should get the contract.

At a standing-room-only work session on Jan. 21, Bernard surprised everyone when he voted with Ludlow and Smith not to accept AMR’s bid, and to reissue the request for proposals (RFP).

AMR then filed a $20 million tort claim demanding that commissioners approve its proposal or, at least extend its existing contract for four years. The company said confidential information had been published on the county’s website that revealed trade secrets, which put it at a disadvantage should the county issue a new RFP.

Bernard surprised everyone again at the Feb. 4 work session.

“Two weeks ago, I made a decision that I felt strongly about,” Bernard said. “On quiet reflection, I’ve realized that the decision I made was the wrong one.”

Bernard apologized to residents of Clackamas County and to AMR employees, “who are my heroes.”

Bernard said his goal has always been to provide the best emergency response service possible for the best price. “I failed to see that we had achieved a contract that is not only responsive, but is at a reduced price, is innovative, and has a greater partnership,” he said. “These are all things that we can be proud of, and now it’s time to move forward.”

“I am grateful that it’s not too late to do the right thing.”

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