Pensacola, Florida
Tuesday May 21st 2019

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May Responds to Crisis

By Rick Outzen

Escambia County’s administration is in crisis. Over the past few weeks, the acting county administrator, assistant administrator, human resources director, public safety director and fire chief have submitted their resignations.

Last month, the Board of County Commissioners learned that Medical Director Dr. Rayme Edler pointed out nearly a year ago multiple issues with the county’s Emergency Medical Services department, ranging from the falsification of certifications and credentials to EMTs lying about medications given in the field.

The media has been told that Dr. Edler has detailed her allegations in a report, but the county administration has refused to release it, citing an ongoing investigation of EMS.

“We are unable to comment specifically about ongoing investigations,” said county spokesperson Joy Tsubooka in the statement. “However, we can tell you that our own processes through our medical director alerted county leadership to possible training discrepancies and other areas of concern within EMS in 2018.”

Commissioner Lumon May voiced his concerns with EMS and the overall leadership of county administration in a joint press conference with the News Journal and Inweekly on Friday, April 19. Amy Lovoy has served as acting administrator since last October when Jack Brown announced he was stepping down to care for his ailing wife. May assumed the commission chairmanship six weeks later.

“I’m disappointed in that the EMS investigation started over a year ago in May or June of 2018, and it’s just been within the last month that commissioners were informed,” said Chairman May. “And so ultimately, whether the investigation is perceived as major or minor, it has to be communicated to the five policymakers.”

May said that he has met with Lovoy, County Attorney Alison Rogers, former Public Safety Director Mike Weaver and former Fire Chief Rusty Nail. He has read Dr. Edler’s report and said many of her claims are “damning, if true.”

“If you talk to administration, they say that the falsification of the certifications is not substantiated,” he explained. “You have a medical director at odds with the administration.”

He continued, “We didn’t know the details of what happened, and if there’s anything that adversely affects the citizens, we should know. The bottom line is the issues in EMS have been going on well over a year, and it’s inexcusable.”

Though he spoke calmly, May’s frustrations with the lack of communication and transparency were obvious. He said, “You have commissioners who are the policy body, and we shouldn’t be managing or administrating. That’s why you pay somebody almost $200,000 a year to be an administrator, and they have to administrate and have policies, procedures and processes in place. It’s not our job to administer those policies.”

In January, the commissioners instructed Lovoy to hire an outside company to do an employee engagement survey so the board could hear from the frontline employees what was going well in their departments and to identify areas of improvement.

After two months of little action on implementing the survey, May told the PNJ and Inweekly that he had asked Lovoy to talk with Quint Studer about how to get the process started nearly three weeks ago. Studer chaired Mayor Grover Robinson’s transition team and had helped the city with its survey. May said Lovoy still hadn’t contacted Studer.

“When I took over the chair, one of my goals was an employee engagement survey, like what the city’s doing right now,” said May. “So what would have been the result had we implemented the employee survey?”

While May was meeting with the local newspapers, Commissioner Jeff Bergosh was being interviewed by WEAR-TV about a proposed non-interference ordinance that would require commissioners to stay away from the day-to-day operations of county employees. The county already has such a policy on the books, but the ordinance would have commissioners facing fines or potentially removed from office if violated.

May said he felt such an ordinance was premature.

“You have to do a real diagnosis before you do surgery,” he said. “You have to look at the overall system and overall county before you start enacting ordinances.”

He suggested the board should look at whether a social media ordinance is needed and discuss whether the commission should have the power to ratify the top directors hired by the county administrator.

“I think we gotta look at processes and protocol and where did those processes fail the citizens of Escambia County. You can’t have a knee-jerk reaction without conclusive evidence,” said the commission chairman.

While he recognized the potential problems with commissioners getting involved in the county’s day-to-day operations, May believes there needs to be an open line of communication with staff.

“I’m not going to let anyone say to me that I can’t communicate with the custodian,” he said. “Because you know what? People forget many times that the people that work in the county also vote in the county. They’re employees, and they’re constituents.”

May added, “Multiple employees have come up who’ve had horrible experiences, whether it be on EMS or whether it be corrections or it might just be in litter pickup. They have a right to speak with me about those experiences.”

The chairman wants departments and employees to be held accountable and believes an open dialogue is essential.

“We have some great employees, but within every organization, you have some employees that from time to time need to be censored, need to be reprimanded, need to be held accountable,” he said. “I don’t have any problem being responsible for those things that I have knowledge and authority of. I certainly take issue when there are things that happen internally within this county and the first knowledge and detail is from a media source or social media. I think that means there’s been a real breakdown in communication.”

May wants the public to understand that not all news at the county is terrible. He said, “The county today, although it may not be run as efficiently as we want it to run, things are still happening.  We’re still closing on Outlying Field 8. Right-of-ways are still being cut. Our summer youth programs are still being developed. Our budget is going forward. Good news, we just got $45 million from our flood money.”

He remains optimistic about the future of Escambia County. He said, “I think many people look at this as a tragedy or a bad time, but this is a great opportunity to redesign our county. New administrator, new directors, new direction.”

May continued, “Now, we get an opportunity, in many of these leadership positions, to bring in some of the bright minds, some of the young minds, some of the people who have different experiences. I mean, we get the time to mold the county government. Not ever before in history have we’ve been able to mold the direction in which this county will go in the next 10 or 20 years.”