By Steve Hunley

According to 7th District County Commissioner Charles Busler it may well be AMR, Knox County’s ambulance service provider, is not in compliance with its current contract.  That is embarrassing enough, but even more embarrassing is the fact the Knox County Commission just voted to extend that same contract for an additional five years.  Technically, the extension is for six more years, as Commissioners were encouraged to rush through an extension a year early.

Last Monday, Knox County Law Director Richard “Bud” Armstrong answered a series of questions posed by County Commissioner Charles Busler.  Busler, a critic of the existing contract with AMR, had urged his colleges to slow down the process and consider asking for bids from other companies.  Knox County would have retained the right to reject any and all bids and it is entirely possible AMR might well have kept the contract.  The big difference is the process would have allowed for Knox County to choose the bid that was best for the citizens and taxpayers of our community.

Busler had sent a letter to Armstrong posing several questions and wondering if AMR was in compliance with the existing contract.  Commissioner Busler raised three questions, which Law Director Bud Armstrong answered.  Busler raised the question of the “quantum merit theory,” which was used by AMR to charge a property owner after responding to a call made by a renter.  Armstrong told Busler the quantum merit theory as applied by AMR was not valid, as the law means the person who made the call must be the individual receiving the benefit.  Some ambulance providers had tried to legalize the quantum merit theory by approaching the Tennessee General Assembly to pass a law that could be enforced; the legislature refused.  Simply put, the person receiving the service is responsible for paying the bill.

Busler also pursued the notion that when AMR publicly forgave a charge to Busler’s constituents Mr. and Mrs. Tim Patt at last month’s commission meeting when the contract was approved, was the company setting a precedent? Armstrong said at the very least others charged similarly would be able to file a grievance.  Busler asked if the ambulance provider could charge for “additional charges.” Armstrong replied the contract specifically states all charges are inclusive and there cannot be any “add ons.”

AMR has also apparently raised its rates while the contract calls for a committee, which would include a member of the Knox County Commission, to review any rate increases to customers before the rate change would go into effect.  As it turns out, no such committee has ever been formed and the increase was never reviewed by anyone.  Nobody from the mayor on down thought to review the contract or create a committee as called for in the contract; instead there was a rush to extend a contract a year in advance. Wow!

Commissioner Charles Busler deserves commendation for doggedly pursuing what he believed to be right and looking out for the people’s interest. Unfortunately, he did not have enough support last month from his fellow commissioners.  There are many fine people on the Knox County Commission and the dialogue last Monday, at the very least, raises some mighty big questions.  Hopefully Busler will have more support from his colleagues today and in the future. Had some powerful people not have been in such a hurry to renew this contract a year early before next year’s elections, perhaps the commission could have done its job, reviewed the current contract with AMR, asked if AMR was in compliance and opened the contract for bids, ensuring the best deal for citizens and taxpayers.

The end result thus far is the clear indication that sometimes it is better to slow down and get it right the first time.