ALAMEDA FIREFIGHTERS BREAK SILENCE ON TAM INVESTIGATION
Representatives from Alameda’s firefighters union said this weekend that they already had information City Councilwoman Lena Tam was accused of leaking to them – including a letter from a would-be county ambulance contractor that they said was actually written at their behest.
On Sunday, IAFF Local 689 President Domenick Weaver released a trail of correspondence leading up to the letter from Alameda County ambulance service bidders Paramedics Plus, which Weaver and IAFF’s political director, Jeff DelBono, were sent three days before Tam’s e-mail containing the letter went out, documents show.
The information released Sunday also offers an e-mail Weaver received showing that reps from a host of firefighters unions in Alameda County, including Alameda’s, were set to meet with reps from Paramedics Plus months before the ambulance bids were due in and before Tam’s e-mails went out.
“At no time did Council Member Tam or ANY other council member ‘leak’ information to IAFF Local 689 on this topic, or any other,” Weaver wrote. “All information received was the result of official correspondence between IAFF Local 689 and the City of Alameda, through official public information requests to the Alameda County Emergency Medical Services Agency, and our own meetings with Paramedics Plus.”
Tam is accused of leaking information to the firefighters and sending an e-mail to her fellow council members to try to scuttle any plan to contract out the city’s ambulance service.
The Paramedics Plus letter came as the union learned city officials were exploring the possibility of allowing Alameda County to take over Alameda’s ambulance service, which is currently operated by the fire department. Weaver said the union asked Paramedics Plus president Anthony J. Myers to write the letter to the City Council and Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant during a February 18 meeting they had with Myers.
After receiving the letter, which urges the city to maintain its existing ambulance service, Tam and another, unnamed council member contacted the union’s reps “inquiring as to why they had received the letter from Paramedics Plus as they did not recall giving council direction to pursue the contracting out of the Ambulance Transport Service,” Weaver wrote in a chronology that accompanied the documents.
Tam forwarded the letter with a February 25 e-mail to Gallant, Fire Chief David Kapler and members of the council that was blind-copied to DelBono. “Can you give me a briefing and context for this letter when we meet on Saturday. This is not my recollection of council direction,” Tam allegedly wrote. “I thought we were evaluating revenue-generating opportunities by having our own ambulance transport and (basic life support) services to maximize the skills of our firefighters.”
On March 5, Tam sent an e-mail to Gallant, Kapler and members of the council saying she had learned that prior to the responses being submitted for the ambulance bid, reps for both Paramedics Plus and their competitor, AMR, had met with labor unions and firefighter unions from across the county, and fire chiefs, records released by an outside attorney hired to investigate Tam appeared to show. The e-mail, which was apparently blind copied to DelBono, Alameda County Supervisor Alice Lai-Bitker and her chief of staff, Shawn Wilson, came in response to a March 1 e-mail from Gallant offering an update on the bid process.
Weaver sent letters to the council on April 24, 2009 and July 12, 2009 to make the union’s case for keeping ambulance service in Alameda, instead of contracting it out to the county. On July 14, he received a letter from the city’s human resources director, Karen Willis, saying the city had opted to be included as an alternative in the county’s bid for a new ambulance contract.
Representatives from Paramedics Plus, which eventually won the contract, met with union reps from several fire departments in Alameda County in September 2009, an e-mail furnished by Weaver showed.
“One of the processes we go through when preparing a proposal is to evaluate the surrounding systems to determine their level of relative sophistication and cost effectiveness. Our evaluation of the City of Alameda shows that the city has a well run, cost effective system that provides an outstanding level of care at a reasonable cost,” Myers wrote. “As an island community with limited access, we came to the conclusion that Paramedics Plus would not be able to provide a level of service to the City of Alameda that is comparable to what is currently being delivered by the Fire Department and it is our opinion that no other provider could either.”
Attorney Michael Colantuono, who was hired by the city to look at Tam’s e-mails to see if they violated open meetings and confidentiality rules, accused Tam of illegally trying to persuade the council to reject any proposal to contract out ambulance service because, he said, the information should have been related in open session instead of via the February 25 e-mail.
And he accused Tam of engaging in “biased decision making” by participating in closed session discussions relating to labor negotiations with the firefighters unions after sending the March 5 e-mail and another asking if Gallant had “closed the loop” with Weaver about amendments to the firefighters’ contract to DelBono. He said those e-mails and others showed that Tam exploited her position for private benefit.
Last week an attorney for SunCal, who Tam is also accused of sending confidential information to, said the company had ” frequent and open communication” with the councilwoman, and they said the investigation was an attempt to keep her from voting Tuesday on whether to deny SunCal’s development proposal, effectively sending the company packing.