There are differing views on Bonita Fire’s bid to take over emergency ambulance transportation in Bonita Springs from Lee County’s Emergency Medical Services department. Lee County Board of County Commissioner approval is required.
Community support in Bonita is extensive, with City Council, the Chamber of Commerce and other community groups endorsing it. Lee EMS and some other county organizations oppose it. In our December cover story and in updates before and since we reported in detail on these views, pro and con.
But whether you are for or against you really have to question the way Commissioner Steve Lohan, Chief Phil Kinsey and their team have been treated in Ft. Myers. Regrettably, Lee County Commissioners have now abandoned a hearing officer process that held the promise of a thoughtful and independent review of the issue.
Five months ago, County Commissioners decided to move forward with the hearing officer process. The stated purpose was to reconcile diametrically opposing financial projections that Lee EMS and Bonita Fire had presented. “Let’s get to the bottom of this’” was the sentiment.
Bonita Fire stepped up, offering to pay half of the hearing officer cost. A cost estimate was received, less than originally anticipated. But then, in February, County staff asked Bonita Fire to pay an additional cost, half the expense of a forensic auditor. When Bonita Fire first balked, reasonably asserting that each side should pay its own expert witnesses, County Commissioners halted the hearing officer process. Under this pressure, Bonita Fire promptly offered to split the bill. But at an April meeting, County Commissioners rejected the offer. Bonita Fire was effectively told it was too late.
This is an odd way for one government entity to treat another. Bonita Fire and Lee EMS are both highly professional organizations with different points of view. But in this mix there is the potential of providing Bonitians an enhanced service in a cost efficient way.
In May Lee County Commissioners will decide on Bonita Fire’s request without the benefit of a process that was intended to provide a solid, substantive underpinning for that decision. Bonita Fire and the citizens of Bonita Springs deserve a better shake.