A Georgia judge granted an emergency injunction this week to block the actions of Augusta’s emergency medical services council after the unelected panel was accused of conflicts of interest in the provision and selection of ambulance providers.
The ruling came after Augusta’s current provider, Gold Cross, filed a dramatic law suit alleging that the city’s efforts to replace it were corrupt and being orchestrated at the behest of government officials and to the detriment of taxpayers.
Earlier this year, Augusta Fire Chief Christopher James, who chairs the area’s ambulance council, successfully pressured the panel to open the zone to bidding. Then, as now, Chief James aggressively maneuvered for the region’s service to be administered by his already-strained department, which local media said was impossible in the current budgeting environment.
Open records obtained by the Gold Cross, which provided ambulance services to the city without incident from 2014 until Chief James was tapped as chairman of the council last year, revealed that Augusta City Attorney Jody Smitherman and James were privately advising–and pressuring–other council members on matters related to bidding and provider selection.
It’s not just the courts who are disturbed by the actions of Chief James, but also local media. The Augusta Chronicle editorialized Friday against James’ gambit in a withering rebuke, writing (our emphasis):
“[Judge] Sheryl B. Jolly isn’t an activist. She’s got better things to do than to inject herself into the city’s business.
“But the city of Augusta left the Superior Court judge no choice last week but to step into the ongoing bureaucratic battle over control of the county ambulance system.
“She ruled, as she had to, that the city’s process for trying to acquire control of the ambulance system from private company Gold Cross EMS was hopelessly awash in real or perceived conflicts of interest. …
“It’s pretty easy to conclude that having the city’s fire chief, Christopher James, preside over the very process in which he, himself, wants to wrest control of the ambulance system from Gold Cross is either a blatant conflict of interest or, at best, a neon sign blinking to one. …
“It’s never easy for a good judge to inject herself into such a quagmire that is best left to politicians and bureaucrats. But Judge Jolly had no choice.”