By Steve Hunley

The Knox County Commission will be considering voting on an issue today that is of vital importance to every resident of our community.  The commissioners are being asked to renew the contract for ambulance service held by AMR, formerly Rural/Metro.  First of all, getting this right is obviously critical due to the nature of the service.  It’s not like bidding for telephones, computers or office supplies.  This is a service which may mean life or death for Knox Countians.  Furthermore, there is a serious governmental trust principle involved here, as commissioners are being asked to vote to renew a contract a year in advance of the contract’s expiration without asking for bids.

Clearly, governments seek bids from service providers to ensure that the citizens are receiving the best service for the best value.  The bidding process will allow the county commission to review bids from several ambulance services, which could include renegotiated rates, the latest emergency technology, new or additional vehicles and new, advanced medical protocol that will benefit Knox Countians. For the county, there is no downside to taking a new look at this contract and rebidding will only result in the county being able to negotiate and select a better deal for its citizens. Additionally, rebidding the contract allows Knox County to negotiate terms to keep its ambulance service provider more accountable. Knox County and the county commission have a responsibility to prepare options to ensure citizens are getting the best service from this important contract.

What need is there for the county commission to renew AMR’s contract without bidding for the services a year in advance?  That is a mighty good question and the only reason I can discern is there will be a number of new commissioners elected, as well as a new county mayor.  Frankly, there is NO reason whatever to go through this process without soliciting bids for the ambulance contract.  The commission should not renew AMR’s contract a year early without seeking additional bids to provide the service.  Nor is the county bound to accept the low bid; there have been instances in the past when low bids have been submitted by alleged service providers with no track record of providing any service or any evidence they can live up to the bid.  The commission rightly has the means to refuse and reject those bids.  Still, it is in the best interests of the people of Knox County for the commission to open up the bids for ambulance service to all service providers who wish to compete.  The commission can then ascertain which company has submitted the best bid at the best price for the people of Knox County.

AMR has undergone significant changes since the last contract was let, not the least of which is several ownership turnovers.  Rural/Metro declared bankruptcy in 2013 and ownership has changed at least twice by my count.

I cannot imagine why the county commission would not want to accept bids for such an important service in a process that should be as transparent as a picture window.  It ensures accountability, not only on the part of Knox County government, but also upon the selected provider.  Service providers necessarily must meet certain standards and conditions set by the local government and they, too, must be held accountable for meeting those goals.

This process seems just a bit too hurried to me and that always makes me suspicious.  That there is no need to rush through a renewal of a contract a year in advance cannot be disputed.

There are at least two members of the Knox County Commission who are either announced candidates for mayor or exploring the possibility of a race.  It will be very interesting to see where these two mayoral candidates stand on this issue.

The answer to the question as to whether the county commission is serving the people of Knox County or the special interests will be known later today.