Merced County under the influence

Regarding the issue of the now imfamous Merced County ambulance contract, a "local" firm, Riggs Ambulance Service, is pitted against an "out-of-town corporation", American Medical Response. The way the contract has been handled stinks so much that the local newpaper has produced some surprisingly complete reports, even if they are scattered across the months of the controversy. Though Riggs is still being billed as the "local" firm, in fact, it was reported months earlier that it is specifically the ambulance division of the Riggs family businesses that was bought by Sierra Emergency Medical Services Alliance, a Reno based non-profit corporation. 

Reading on about this mascarade, the public cannot help but think that the only outfit that is what it says it is is American Medical Response, the out-of-town corporation. Although the stink is attributed to county staff, two of whom quit as a result of it, the public cannot help but wonder what "meddling" the supervisors engaged in also to protect the hometown favorites (owned by the Reno outfit). It also makes you wonder, rule-of-law-wise, what sort of protocols for contracts this size the county has and/or uses for guidance in such affairs. Evidently, the state EMS authority thought Baucom, the former county EMS chief's meddling had an odor to it. Nor is this the only recent incident of a local retired public official lobbying (while denying it) the county for a contract on behalf of one of the bidders. The other play at issue is vendors with direct financial interest in a bid joining with the county in designing the Request for Proposals. This is not just happening in the ambulance-service case.

Badlands Journal editorial board

Mertced Sun-Sar
Riggs Ambulance Service gets a new partner
Nevada-based nonprofit has been helping Riggs for years
Ramona Giwargis
...An Ambulance Service Subcontractor Agreement between Riggs and SEMSA from January 2012 outlines specific terms if SEMSA-Riggs wins the current bid. It includes SEMSA "hiring and managing all employees of Riggs, managing all accounts receivables and rights to the Riggs name in providing ambulance service."
The contract reads as though SEMSA would completely take over.
That's because it will take over, Staffan said, but just the ambulance operation.
"We'd be taking the ambulance department and moving it under SEMSA," Staffan said. "Riggs, the corporation, would continue to 
exist with Kraig as president. He will be an employee under this contract."
As part of the subcontractor agreement, SEMSA would pay Kraig Riggs about $20,800 each month in salary. He will continue overseeing community service and donations, while having the "loudest voice" in his company.Staffan said SEMSA has "helped out, not bought out" Riggs Ambulance Service.
"We're not a takeover company," Staffan said. "SEMSA will be invisible to the community."
Staffan said that SEMSA would keep the local billing department, and lease the building from Riggs. Additionally, it would lease and buy ambulances, office equipment and be the holder of the Merced County contract.SEMSA officials intend to buy local, including a plan to replace all 24 ambulances over the next three years.
The uniforms and name on the ambulance would still read "RAS" and the employees wouldn't see changes in their pay or seniority.
"We're buying the parts of his company needed for ambulance operation," Staffan said. "We're buying the rights to the RAS name, so employees' paychecks will say, 'Riggs Ambulance Service -- a division of SEMSA.'"
Staffan said this partnership benefits the county because it provides grant opportunities, research and development, and the ability to "see a local company, but doing business as a financially stable nonprofit."
Merced County Supervisor Deidre Kelsey said she understands that SEMSA being in Nevada may cause concern to some, but the local jobs are more important.
"The issue of whether the company is local or not local is not as significant to me as the potential to keep local employees," Kelsey said. "The definition of a locally owned business varies; it's not a black-or-white situation anymore. The lines have blurred, and we need to be comfortable with that."

Merced Sun-Star
Ex-official heavily involved in Merced County ambulance talks
Retired EMS chief consulted, tried to influence bid award process
348/ex-MERCED -- When a multimillion-dollar contract is on the line, it's no surprise that personal interests become involved.
The battle for Merced County's emergency ambulance service contract was no exception.

Most suspected some lobbying was happening behind the closed office doors at the county's administration building -- either for longtime provider Riggs Ambulance Service or competitor American Medical Response.

But what happens when an outside influence -- a former county employee with potential ties to one of the two companies -- attempts to sway a closed bidding process?

Supervisor Deidre Kelsey, board chairwoman, publicly criticized the "meddling" that happened during the process last year, 
saying she didn't want to see it repeated.

Kelsey said she was referring to Chuck Baucom, the county's former EMS administrator, who voluntarily retired in October 2011 after 23 years of service.

Emails obtained by the Sun-Star through a public records request showed Baucom obtained confidential bid documents after his retirement, worked for the consulting firm writing the proposal, interjected himself into the process and maintained a relationship with Riggs Ambulance Service.

Riggs' contract was in jeopardy after the 65-year provider initially lost its bid to renew the contract last year. Instead, it was slated to go to AMR, a Colorado-based ambulance company, which won the bidding by four points -- receiving a cumulative score of 364.8, compared with Riggs' score of 360.6.

But Riggs officials said the process was "flawed" and appealed to the Board of Supervisors to start over. On Jan. 29, the board unanimously rejected awarding the contract to AMR and reopened the bidding process.

Shortly afterward, EMS Manager Linda Diaz and EMS Medical Director Dr. Jim Andrews resigned their positions in part because 
they considered the board's decision a "no confidence" vote.

Long before the bidding process began, county officials were reaching out to their longtime former EMS chief to answer questions about the operation he had spent more than two decades developing.

For example, Diaz contacted Baucom after his retirement for assistance with various EMS matters -- and Baucom was willing to lend a helping hand to his successor in several December 2011 emails.

From locating files to attaching wage invoices and maps from his personal email, Baucom responded to Diaz's requests -- usually within hours and even while vacationing in Jamaica.

It's against that backdrop that Baucom became increasingly involved in the county's EMS bidding process.
Getting paid by Abaris, accessing documents

A review by the Sun-Star of hundreds of emails highlighted the extent of Baucom's access to information and documents after his retirement.

Baucom worked as a consultant to The Abaris Group during his employment with Merced County. The Martinez-based consulting 

firm was selected by county staff in June 2011 to write the document for the ambulance bidding process.

In an April 2012 letter to Merced County counsel, The Abaris Group President Mike Williams discloses payments made to Baucom 

for consulting services. In the past seven years, the letter states, Baucom was paid compensation "not exceeding $35,000" for 

projects in Marin County, San Diego County and San Bernardino County.

Even after retiring from Merced, the emails show, Baucom continued his work as a consultant to The Abaris Group, which was in the process of writing Merced's Request for Proposal, also called an RFP, bidding document.

Despite the warning, Baucom contacted county Purchasing Manager Kim Nausin the following month, according to emails.
In an April 5, 2012, email, Baucom tells Nausin that he's reviewed the Request for Proposal and calls the "Status 0" and "mutual aid" restrictions on the document "of particular concern."

Mutual aid requests are made when an agency asks for help from another ambulance service provider and "Status 0" events occur 

when there are no ambulances available.

For the second time, Baucom offered his comments and suggestions for changes to the document.
"If I sent something to Kim, it was because I was concerned that the county was going down the wrong path," Baucom said 

That document, which must remain confidential until its release, was sent to Baucom almost one month after his retirement, according to emails.

On Nov. 7, 2011, Williams sent Baucom an email copy of the "final edited version" of the Request for Proposal. Williams did not return multiple calls for comment.
According to the email, Baucom not only saw the confidential proposal before its release on April 2, 2012, but edited the document, sending it back to Diaz with his "recommendations in red text."

After Diaz forwarded the recommendations to her boss, Public Health Director Tammy Moss Chandler, she was given a warning.
"He should not be reviewing documents or doing things that, in this case, looks like 'doing work' for us," Chandler writes in her emailed reply regarding Baucom's involvement.

In a recent interview, Baucom denied touching the document in an "an official capacity" after mid-September 2011.
"I don't remember that particular email, I'm not suggesting it didn't occur," Baucom said. "I don't recall if I did, but I 

probably did highlight some things and send back my thoughts."
Baucom said the suggestions were made as a concerned citizen, not as a former county official. "It's entirely up to the county whether they accepted my comments, but at that point I am a private citizen," he said.
But county officials such as Administrative Services Director Mark Cowart and Supervisor Kelsey said it's inappropriate for anyone outside of county staff to see the document before its release.

"It would be inappropriate to share the content and the requirements of an RFP prior to release with anyone not authorized to participate in the process," Cowart said. "This is necessary to protect the integrity of the procurement process because the information could be used to provide an unfair advantage to a prospective bidder."

Kelsey agreed, saying: "It compromises the process because it gives an unfair advantage to one party versus any other party that would be participating in the RFP."

Adam Willoughby, spokesman with the state EMS Authority, was not directly involved in Merced's bidding process.
But Willoughby said it appears that Baucom's relationship with the consulting firm and his access to documents could have compromised what should be a fair bidding process.

"It does appear that there may have been a potential breach of the public trust as a result of Mr. Baucom simultaneously working for the county and the contracting firm," Willoughby said.
Concerns raised

Jim Brown, Merced County executive officer, said Baucom's relationship with The Abaris Group was brought to his attention by 

Chandler, the public health director, in February 2012.

"There were some concerns that were raised that even though Chuck had been retired, he was trying to assert himself and make suggestions," Brown said.

Realizing there could be a conflict of interest, Brown said he stopped the process at that point, delaying the bidding by about two months. He asked Chandler to contact a few EMS experts across the state to evaluate the documents for objectivity.
According to Brown, the experts responded that the Request for Proposal looked fair.

But concerns also were raised about Baucom's relationship with Kraig Riggs, president of Riggs Ambulance Service, and county officials sent a stern letter to Baucom on March 30, 2012, warning him to stay away from the bidding process.

"Please refrain from any communication with employees, officers or agents of Abaris Group, Riggs Ambulance Service ... or other individual regarding the RFP for ground ambulance," Chandler's letter says.

Connection to Riggs

Baucom also acknowledged his relationship with Kraig Riggs, and his work as a former paramedic for the ambulance provider. 

But he maintains that he did not lobby for the company.

"In all honesty, I know the Riggs family very well," Baucom said. "But I know a good number of people at AMR. I don't care who gets the bid. I just want to make sure the proposals are reasonable and sustainable."
Baucom said he was looking out for his friends and family, many of whom still live in Merced County.

"I felt my lobbying was to advocate for the county and the system," he said. "I've told Kraig to his face -- I'm not going to advocate for you. If you win it, that's great. But I want what's best for the county."
Kraig Riggs said he was not aware that Baucom -- who he called a "long-distance friend" -- was lobbying on his behalf.

"He had nothing to do with the Merced RFP," Riggs said. "I'm quite sure he did not work with Abaris on the Merced RFP. I would be shocked if he did."

Contacting supervisors

The Abaris Group voluntarily withdrew from its consulting role with the county in May 2012 for undisclosed reasons, according to Michael Calabrese, chief deputy county counsel.

"Mr. Williams' discontinuation of service to the county was voluntary by Mr. Williams and consented to by the county," 

Calabrese said. "(It) did not constitute a termination by the county or a breach by Mr. Williams."

After The Abaris Group withdrew, Baucom showed up at the office of District 5 Supervisor Jerry O'Banion.
"He expressed concerns that the (Abaris) contract was eliminated," O'Banion said. "I was surprised that he would even mention it because he was already retired from the county."

Supervisor Hub Walsh said Baucom stopped by his office after his retirement, but could not recall the details of that meeting.

Supervisors Deidre Kelsey, Linn Davis and John Pedrozo said they did not meet with Baucom after his retirement.
Despite the March 2012 warning to stop contacting those involved with the process, on Oct. 29, 2012, Baucom sent an email to the five supervisors requesting a meeting to "discuss these concerns and a better option for the county."

In that email, Baucom criticized the "many errors and inaccuracies" in the Request for Proposal, saying the state EMS authority "overstepped their authority" and called the decision to reverse the award from Riggs' favor to AMR the "worst course of action" taken by the county.

Walsh and O'Banion rejected Baucom's offer to meet, responding that he should contact county counsel to maintain the "integrity of the process."

Criticizing process

On Jan. 7 of this year, Baucom emailed all the supervisors, the county counsel and Public Health Director Kathleen Grassi calling the RFP "flawed" and criticizing the Dec. 18 public meeting regarding the contract dispute -- a meeting at which he spoke.

"I watched in disbelief as Kathleen Grassi and Dr. (Jim) Andrews presented their very biased and inaccurate staff report regarding the RFP process and, in particular, their characterization of Riggs Ambulance Service as a poor performer," his email states.
Baucom goes on to say that Riggs is an excellent provider and that any other characterization would suggest he was "asleep at the wheel" during his 20-year EMS career.

"Nothing could be further from the truth, but it appears that your current staff isn't interested in the truth," Baucom writes in the email.

American Medical Response officials recently said the information about Baucom's involvement is news to the company.
"AMR is obviously concerned about these new findings, and how they may have prejudiced our company during the RFP process," said Jason Sorrick, AMR spokesman.

"This is an individual who flew out all the way across the country to advocate on behalf of Riggs' position and defend their level (status) zero events despite the fact he worked for the firm who created the bidding documents," he said.

At the time of his retirement, Baucom's annual salary was $93,267.20, according to Marci Barrera, human resources manager. 

His pension is $6,287.75 per month, reported by the Merced County Employees' Retirement Association.

Baucom, who said he now spends his days on a golf cart in Florida, still provides consulting services for The Abaris Group, most recently in Riverside County.