Next week, Mayor David Cohen plans to announce the city’s ambulance service for the next three years. But some people want Newton’s next mayor to make the decision instead.
The Newton Firefighters have advocated bringing the ambulance service in-house, instead of contracting out to a private firm. The city currently uses AMR, which has also applied for the upcoming three-year contract along with Fallon and Cataldo.
At the beginning of September, the Aldermen voted, 20-2, to support a resolution asking the mayor to delay signing the three-year contract by six months. With Cohen’s term in office ending Jan. 1, the move would effectively leave the decision to either Ruth Balser or Setti Warren, depending on the outcome of next month’s mayoral election.
The delay would also give the firefighters time to prepare their own proposal to handle ambulance service.
Alderman Greer Tan Swiston, who voted for the resolution, said it was a no-brainer that could wind up saving the city money if firefighters can provide ambulance service cheaper than an outside contractor.
“I really don’t understand what the controversy is in resisting this request, and why it took a request from the Aldermen to even consider this,” Swiston said. “We’re in tough economic times; we need to come up with creative ways to keep the city running.”
But mayoral spokesman Jeremy Solomon said the firefighters could have put out a proposal when the public bidding process took place earlier this year.
“The mayor is soley focused on what’s best for the city of Newton, not what’s best for the union or any other entity,” Solomon said. “He needs to preserve public safety and the integrity of the search process.”
The bids are being reviewed by a selection committee, but the buck stops with Cohen, Solomon said. Though the committee may make a recommendation, it’s the mayor’s call.
“Ultimately, his responsibility is to protect public safety,” Solomon said. “If he feels a different choice is the best way to do that, then he has the responsibility to go against the recommendation of the search committee.”
The committee is made up of several city officials, including Chief Administrative Officer Sandy Pooler, Fire Chief Joe LaCroix, Assistant Fire Chief Bruce Proia, Police Chief Matthew Cummings, Police Captain Paul Anastasia (who is charge of the dispatch center), Health Commissioner David Naparstek, Director of Clinical Services Linda Walsh and Assistant City Solicitor Eileen McGettigan
Also on the committee are two residents with medical experience — Dr. Barry Tils, the medical director for ambulance services in Newton and a doctor at Newton Wellesley Hospital; and Dr. William Baker, medical director of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Boston Medical Center. Both Tils and Baker said in e-mails that they would not comment on the selection process and deferred to the mayor’s office.
Solomon would not say if Cohen had pushed for the committee to select AMR over the other bidders, a charge leveled by firefighter union President Tom Lopez. But, he said, that wouldn’t matter in any case.”
“[Cohen’s] not an advocate, he’s the decider,” Solomon said.
Lopez, who is not on the selection committee, said he was upset that the contract would be going to an outside provider without further review of in-house ambulance service. He said the department did not put out a bid in the spring because the chief did not think the city would consider in-house service.
To make matters worse, Lopez said, the selection committee was not informed that the Aldermen had passed their resolution — which is nonbinding, like all resolutions to the mayor — until a few weeks after the fact. No Aldermen sit on the selection committee.
Alderman Stephen Linsky, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, said the resolution was public knowledge. The only way that the board can communicate is through the mayor’s office, he said.
“I don’t know how we address it except through the mayor,” Linsky said.
Like Swiston, Linsky hoped Cohen would reconsider signing a three-year contract now. An extension would give the next mayor a fresh start, he said.
“It doesn’t make sense for a long-term contract to be signed in the twilight of the mayor’s term,” Linsky said.