AUGUSTA, Ga (WJBF) Augusta leaders are having a tough time figuring out the future of ambulance service. The current provider is on a month-to-month contract. District 7 Commissioner Sean Frantom joins us on The Means Report. Watch our interview as Commissioner Frantom takes us behind the headlines and gives us his perspective. He does not paint a pretty picture as he explains the ambulance situation. Thank you for watching and thank you for joining us every Monday afternoon at 12:30 for The Means Report.
We appreciate you staying with us. Thanks again to Dr. Bradshaw, and thanks to our next guest. He is District 7 Commissioner, Sean Frantom. He is here primarily to talk about ambulance service in Augusta because there has been so much going on in that area. We’ve had it, as I mentioned, it seems, on our news every night for weeks and weeks. Commissioner Frantom, thanks for your work for our county, thanks for being here.
Absolutely, thank you for having me. Wish it was different circumstances, but you know.
I know, no you’re right. I do too. And hopefully we’ll get to some like general Richmond County questions here if we have time. But first, let’s tackle ambulance service, where, as of this taping, we tape “The Means Report” typically on Thursdays. And today, Thursday, you are going to have a vote with your colleagues on a list of three ambulance companies. You have to pick one. What happens after that vote?
Yeah, so we actually have one company, AmeriPro, that’ll be brought before us, and we’ll have to vote on that. There’ll have to be six votes for it, basically on a time crunch, because by tomorrow, by 5:00 p.m., we will have to show that we have a contract provider to apply for the zone. If there’s not six votes, I’m not sure what would happen other than we wouldn’t apply for the zone as the city of Augusta. And then the state would obviously choose another zone provider moving forward.
All right, so this all seems to have happened, and I think everybody would agree quickly, how in such a small window can y’all do your due diligence and try to figure out which ambulance company is best?
Well, and that’s the tough, you know, for the last two weeks we’ve been dealing with Gold Cross. Well, for the last years we’ve been dealing with Gold Cross, but we had a contract in front of us. Couldn’t find the six votes to move that forward. And then they released the zone, which queued us up to basically go out for an RFP, because the city of Augusta would like to maintain the zone here. And at that moment, we hadn’t been able to move forward. It’s 72 hours to look, I mean, the bids are due on Monday. They’re bringing us a recommendation last night. It’s a very short timeframe. And that’s why me as a commissioner, I felt like today we have to have the conversation on all three, just not the one that is being brought before us, because of the amount of information that’s in these RFPs.
Commissioner Frantom, what was wrong with Gold Cross? All right, I think I might speak for a few people when I say that we saw their ambulances driving around town and they seemed like they were doing a good job. What am I missing here?
Political. It’s been, unfortunately since about 2014, our previous chief really wanted Gold Cross out of the fire stations. This ball started to roll where Augusta wanted to own the zone, and basically have Gold Cross out of this area, frankly. And since then there’s been just a lot of angst commissioners, former commissioners, department heads. The city of Augusta hasn’t treated Gold Cross fairly in my mind.
Now Gold Cross isn’t where they need to be either. I mean, we need to hold them more accountable, but we can’t hold them more accountable without a contract. And that was what we were trying to accomplish.
All right, and I know we could spend our whole segment on this, and I wanna be careful not to, but what stuck in those commissioners craw that made them dislike Gold Cross? Were there constituents calling them and going, look, these people aren’t picking me up on time, they’re jerks, get rid of them, what went on?
All of of that, I mean, whether it was constituents, whether it was certain fire departments that were telling citizens, hey, make sure you call your commissioner and tell them they didn’t pick you up. It was a lot of things, the inducement pay that Gold Cross was looking to enhance with different hiring of things and different implementations that they wanted to have. That was a crux in some of the commissioner’s eyes. And you know, frankly, a lot of people in this government just don’t want Gold Cross here in this community anymore.
Does it boil down, because it sounds like it does, to maybe personalities, you know, behind the scenes that just don’t mesh?
It’s 100% personalities. It’s 100% politics of this community that, I mean, we’re our own worst enemy. We always talk about potential for Richmond County.
But the politics keep it down, frankly. And it’s not, and the interesting thing about this is it’s not just the commission. I would say department heads, and things, have been just as political in this process as the commissioners.
What happens when someone tries to change that? Maybe it’s you, maybe it’s Deke Copenhaver back in the day. Maybe it’s Garnett Johnson, who seems extremely positive and energetic. He was with me a few weeks ago on this broadcast. What happens when somebody says, hey, come on y’all, let’s turn the volume down and just have some peace here?
Well, the bottom line is it takes six folks to get anything done. My hope is that we will give the mayor a vote in the future. I think it’s time that the community steps up and make sure this happens. And I know we’re gonna be talking about it, because we’ve had so many issues over the years, I’ve been on the commission almost eight years now, where the mayor could have decided a vote. and still, we didn’t get anything done, because the mayor doesn’t have a vote. Now, I don’t believe the mayor should have more power. I believe the mayor should have a vote.
What’s the purpose of an abstention? We see someone use one and it prevents the mayor from breaking a tie. Is that all decided beforehand? It just seems like it’s something that was put in place before we, the constituents, even knew about it.
Absolutely, anytime you see an abstention, it’s either because they have a political interest with that company or event, or they don’t want the mayor to have a vote. I mean, one of my colleagues has stated publicly, he’s not gonna let the mayor vote if he knows it’s a five/five tie, so that’s what it comes down to.
Do you ever go to other towns and look at them and say, man, we could totally be this if things were different at the municipal building?
Oh, absolutely. Again, we’re our own worst enemy. It’s unfortunate that the politics have held the city back. I mean, that’s why, from an economic development standpoint, when we look bad, it affects that. When people see the headlines, which you show every night, of what is going on in our city, why would they wanna bring industry to our community when they see this in-fighting between commissioners, in-fighting with department heads, just, it’s a bad rap for everybody.
My gosh. Do you have any hope for the future? Honestly. I mean, you have done your time. So many people sit on the sidelines and never do what you’ve done for almost eight years. Do you have hope for our future in Augusta?
I do, but it’s gonna take people getting out of their box. It’s gonna take people working together. It’s gonna take people that maybe live in South Augusta realizing that we need housing developments in South Augusta. Yeah, you don’t want the traffic, but do you want a grocery store? You’re not gonna get a grocery store unless we have more development in those areas. So I’m hoping that like people will realize that together we could reach our potential, but it’s gonna take us all like realizing that it’s not the same old Augusta that it used to be.
Let me jump back to ambulance service again real quick and ask you if there are any concerns on you or the commission’s part about an ambulance, about their not being ambulance service when we need it during this time of transition where I call 911 and nobody comes.
There’s concern because we can’t hold Gold Cross accountable, right? There’s not concern that somebody’s not gonna come, they might just not come in a timely manner. We have a contract with Gold Cross until our new provider is set up that we’re spending $150,000 a month on and a subsidy. But at the end of the day, we don’t have a contract with them. We can’t hold them accountable. And that’s the most frustrating thing about this. Hopefully we can get something done today. I’m not sure that we will, to be perfectly honest with you. I think this is just such a grinding issue for the entire commission. And frankly, departments, the community, you got half the community don’t want us to support Gold Cross, regardless of what the say. And then half the community’s like, why would y’all do this? Your subsidy was at 1.4 for so many years and then you took it down to 650,000. Now they want it at 1.9, well today we’re looking at a company that’s gonna put $2.16 million subsidy.
Makes no sense.
You said they might not pick you up in a timely manner. Should that terrify me?
It should, and it’s disappointing. But this isn’t just an Augusta problem though, this is a state problem. The EMS Council across the state is concerned about what happens in Augusta, because frankly they don’t have the resources at a state level to help us. I mean, if the zone would, if Gold Cross wouldn’t agree to the month to month, thinking that we were gonna negotiate with them, if they wouldn’t agree to that, basically we would’ve been using providers from around the CSRA to come pick up people in Richmond County, not knowing when and where they’re gonna come from.
If we get the zone, don’t we have to buy a lot more trucks? Aren’t we? Don’t we have like four ambulances total?
Yeah, four, but one works right now.
But it is more we have contracted out.
Okay, it’s all right.
We get to control the rates and can control things a little bit better. But at the end of the day, I don’t know that owning the zone is the best thing, just from a liability standpoint. But I think this community wants us to own the zone. It’s been a crux since 2014 that City of Augusta owns the Zone. We had an opportunity to do that when we had Gold Cross at the table, and now we have a new RFP at the table, and I’m just not sure how this is gonna pan out today with the vote.
All right, let me just ask you this, and this is, you know, on behalf of the paramedics and EMS crews, first responders, an ambulance isn’t always a fast ride to the hospital in an emergency. Don’t people sometimes use it as sort of a taxi service?
Well, and that’s the problem in Richmond County is that people are using it to get at the head of the line at the hospital. And then when you have to get to the hospital and you wait, that bogs everything down for the people that need it. So people are abusing 911, frankly, in our county. And then when you have 40% that don’t pay in our county, that’s the reason we were trying to put the subsidy in with Gold Cross.
I mean, you can’t operate a business when you’re not getting paid by 40%. And we have a 28% indigent population in this community. And I think we have to realize who we represent. And that’s why this issue has just been very frustrating for me in having to deal with the, in my entire eight years we’ve dealt with this. I mean, and it’s just been frustrating all the way.
When you’re at the table before a commission meeting begins, you know, maybe it’s the day before a commission meeting, the stuff that we see, maybe it’s the weekend prior and you’re just getting together. My question is, when it’s just a normal human being like you, talking to a normal human being on the other side of the table, is there ever any moment where each side says, okay, this is getting old, let’s just get along, or is it nonstop contentiousness?
In this issue, it’s been contentiousness.
There’s no give and take. I mean, when you watch our meeting, if they watch our meeting on Thursday, they will see that, like when we’re asking questions to the department heads, the why, why did you grade it this way, The other colleagues will be like, y’all are attacking them, stop this, and it’ll be very contentious. It’s never been, we’re gonna bring them together. Two years ago we had a workshop and we didn’t even have Gold Cross at the table at the workshop. It was the commission telling the city what they wanted and then going to Gold Cross. And so we’ve never been working as a team with Gold Cross. I mean, the former mayor called them Burger King on the diocese. I mean, these are the things that have happened over the years since 2014. It’s embarrassing, to be frank, as an elected official, that we have treated them that way. Now, should they do better? Yes, and I feel sorry for the ones that they hadn’t been able to pick up.
But at the end of the day, the city should have already had a contract with them so we could have held them accountable.
Commissioner Sean Frantom, I can’t thank you enough. You have taken a complicated issue and made it easier to understand. I promise you, I’ve learned a ton, and I appreciate your time.