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Village says no contract breach, willing to let twp. go without fight

by CJ Carnacchio

December 25, 2013

Oxford Village contends that it's not in breach of its dispatch services contract with the township and it's willing to work together to resolve any issues.

However, if the township wishes to terminate the agreement and receive its fire/emergency medical dispatch services from another agency, the village made it clear that it won't engage in a legal battle to keep the township as a customer.

That was the crux of village attorney Bob Davis' Dec. 19 letter to township attorney Gary Rentrop. The letter was issued following a Dec. 18 special closed session meeting between Davis and the village council.

On Dec. 4, the township board voted to release an opinion letter from Rentrop that basically stated the village was in breach of the dispatch services contract because it will begin handling the Village of Lake Orion's 9-1-1 and police calls Jan. 6 and it is not in compliance with Oakland County Medical Control Authority (OCMCA) standards.

With their release of this letter, township officials notified the village that they wanted it "to comply with the dispatch contract."

Township officials also informed the village via a formal motion that they want two qualified dispatchers on duty 24-7.

The township currently contracts with the village to handle all of the fire and emergency medical calls in Oxford. For this service, the township paid the village $36,071 this year. That fee will increase to $37,153 next year and $38,268 in 2015.

Although the current contract doesn't expire until Dec. 31, 2015, Davis indicated the village is willing to let the township go without a fight "just to get along."

"Matters between the township and the village have been good lately," Davis said. "Nobody in the village wants to see this become a sore point between the two entities. That's what (council members) expressed in my meeting with them."

In his letter, Davis wrote, "The township can have an immediate termination of the dispatch agreement and the village will work with the township on any transition to a new service . . . We do not see any benefit to litigation or contract dispute."

"Whatever it takes, we're not going to leave them without dispatch," Davis said.

But having the township and village go their separate ways in an amicable fashion was only one of the two options that Davis proposed.

The other was for the two municipalities to spend six months analyzing dispatch operations together "to determine whether there are issues relating to the delivery of service to the township."

This would allow for adequate time to review the impact, if any, to the village dispatch center of adding Lake Orion's calls to those already received from Oxford Village and Township.

Davis noted that adding Lake Orion's nearly 3,000 residents to the village dispatch center's service area shouldn't be a problem because population growth wasn't an issue before when Oxford increased in size. Between the 2000 and 2010 U.S. Censuses, the combined population of the township and village rose from 16,007 to 20,526.

"We suggest monthly meetings to discuss issues, protocols and equipment," Davis wrote in his letter. "If, at the end of the six month period the township wishes to terminate the dispatch agreement, the village will work with the township on any transition to any new service undertaken by the township."

"We just think we ought to look at this," Davis explained. "We've had such a long relationship. Why wouldn't we want to give it six months and work on it?"

In response to the options proffered by the village, township Supervisor Bill Dunn said ultimately, it will be up to the board to decide which way it wants to go.

Speaking only for himself, Dunn said he wants the village to have two dispatchers on duty per shift 24-7 instead of one.

"If they can't give us that, then I'm going to vote to switch to the Oakland County Sheriff's dispatch," he said. "It has nothing to do with the professionalism or competence of the village dispatchers. They've always done a good job for us. I've got no complaints about their service.

"But I don't believe that one dispatcher can adequately serve Oxford Village, Oxford Township and now, Lake Orion. One dispatcher isn't enough to handle all those residents and all those calls. I'm not willing to put the health, safety and welfare of our residents in jeopardy just to stay local. If I was, I wouldn't be doing my job."

It should be noted that while National Fire Protection Association standards call for the presence of two on-duty dispatchers at all times, the OCMCA has no such requirement.

In his letter, Davis outlined exactly why he believes the village has not breached the dispatch services contract.

He disagreed with Rentrop's assertion that adding Lake Orion to the village dispatch center's customer base violated its contract with the township.

"The definition of the term 'Dispatch Services' (in the contract) does not state that the village has entered into an exclusive agreement with the township which prevents the village from providing dispatch services to other municipalities," Davis wrote. "Moreover, the dispatch agreement itself does not contain any language indicating exclusivity which prohibits the village from entering into an agreement with Lake Orion to provide dispatch services.

"At best, the definition of the term Dispatch Services applies only to the dispatch agreement with the township and it simply defines where the services will be provided under this dispatch agreement."

Davis went on to explain the village is in compliance with county medical control protocols, therefore, there's no breach there, either.

He cited a Dec. 6, 2013 letter from the OCMCA, which included a checklist of 12 issues that the Oxford Fire Department must be in compliance with. All of those issues were marked with a yes, including the last two which pertained to Emergency Medical Dispatch (EMD), a service the village dispatcher center provides. "This supports the fact there is no protocol violation as asserted in (Rentrop's) letter," Davis wrote.

Davis noted in his letter that Rentrop's opinion "provides no analysis of how or when the village allegedly failed to comply with the Oakland County Dispatch Protocol."

The attorney went on to quote a May 2012 letter from the OCMCA that stated the village dispatch center had "reached, and in many cases exceeded the expectations set by PSRO (Professional Standards Review Organization)."

"It seems to me like the county is happy with the way things are going between the fire department and the dispatch," Davis said. "Are there things to work on? There always will be."

One of the items marked 'yes' on the county's compliance checklist is "the agency has a policy to ensure that use of lights and sirens is based on EMD protocols and patient condition."

At the Dec. 4 township meeting, Fire Chief Pete Scholz told the board his department has a policy in place regarding fire vehicles' use of lights and sirens when responding to a call, however, the village dispatch center is not screening calls to determine the severity of the situation.

In other words, Scholz said the village is not providing fire personnel with any information as to whether the call they're being dispatched to is life-threatening or routine.

As a result, Oxford fire vehicles are using lights and sirens on every call they respond to. Scholz said that's dangerous to both his personnel and the public on the road.

According to OCMCA protocol, "Where Emergency Medical Dispatchers . . . are available, the EMS Agency is encouraged to develop procedures that reduce unnecessary use of lights and sirens. The procedures may include, but are not limited to, the use of established EMD call screening protocols and evaluation of the scene/patient by first responder personnel."

Davis was surprised by the chief's claim regarding the call screening/prioritization issue.

"I've had five meetings with that chief and he's never mentioned this issue to me, never." he said. "And he's never mentioned it to (village Manager) Joe Young. All of a sudden, now, it's an issue."

Davis said if Scholz and the township have an issue with this, the village would be willing to work with them to resolve it. "How hard would that be to fix?" the attorney said.

In his letter, Davis also addressed a technical point of the contract.

In a nutshell, township officials used Rentrop's opinion letter to notify the village of their belief that the dispatch contract has been breached. Township officials then assumed that by doing so, the village had seven business days to fix things, or proceed with due diligence to complete the cure if it could not be done within that time frame.

However, Davis pointed out the township cannot simply request a breach be cured without first issuing a written termination notice, something the municipality did not do.

"It is not clear whether your Dec. 5, 2013 letter is a termination notice," he wrote. "Despite this, and to avoid any dispute over timeliness, the village will treat the letter as a termination notice 'for a breach' of the dispatch agreement."