Wednesday November 7, 2012

BRATTLEBORO - The Selectboard told officials from Rescue Inc. that the town is very concerned about proposed changes to the ambulance service's bylaws which would eliminate town representation as a member of Rescue Inc.

Rescue Inc. currently allows representatives from among the ambulance service's 15 member towns to serve as members of the non-profit organization.

The membership is also made up of the approximately 61 paid employees, and about 15 lifetime appointed members.

But the emergency response group wants to form a new organization with a board that is appointed from among its staff. The new board would be made up of between nine and 15 members.

The change would not give the member towns a chance to weigh in on issues debated by Rescue Inc.

The Selectboard did not take a vote at its meeting Tuesday night, but a number of board members, as well as Town Manager Barbara Sondag, said they were concerned about the proposed changes.

"We are the biggest payer to Rescue Inc. and if this goes through it might cause us to say that maybe we don't want to be a part of Rescue," said Selectboard Chairman Dick DeGray. "There are implications here. It's not good for the municipality."

The organization wants to make the changes to bring in more professionals to the board, Board Chairman Darah Kehnemuyi said.

Rescue Inc. will consider the bylaw change at its annual meeting on Nov. 12. Rescue Inc. is a non-profit organization and its meetings are not public.

Sondag said she had concerns about how the change would affect the relationship between the board and the staff.

The change would give the staff the authority to appoint board members, and it would be the board members, Sondag said, who would be negotiating the contract for the union members of Rescue Inc.

"This is a significant change. A healthy organization needs healthy checks and balances and those are being eroded by what is being proposed here," Sondag said. "If this is done it will give the membership too much power. I am very alarmed by this."

Sondag said the change would be similar to giving Brattleboro town employees the power to elect all of the town meeting representatives.

Brattleboro makes up about 48 percent of the call volume of Rescue Inc.

Kehnemuyi and Rescue Inc. Director of Operation Mark Considine were both at Tuesday's Brattleboro Selectboard meeting. Rescue has been debating the changes, but the organization has not informed any of the member towns about the discussion.

Brattleboro was discussing the proposed change because one of its representatives, Debra Chapman, wanted feedback on what position she should take.

In a previous interview Kehnemuyi said the organization was counting on its member representatives to go back and report to the town selectboards, but not every town that pays into the ambulance service has active members.

Selectboard member Chris Chapman made it clear that the proposed change would not be in the best interests of the taxpayers who support the service.

"Tax revenues are what pay for all of these services and that requires accountability," Chapman said. "I can't see not having the town represented on the board. It would be damaging long term for the town and for the organization."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at hwtisman@reformer.com or at 802-254-2311 ext. 279.