Ethics commission investigates Fire-EMS merger consultant selection

Honolulu (HawaiiNewsNow) – The Honolulu Ethics Commission is investigating how the city awarded a non-bid contract to a company that studied the potential merger of the city's Fire and Emergency Services departments, after paramedics complain firefighters could be guilty of bid-rigging.

Paramedics have already cast doubt on the merger study, saying consultant Emergency Services Consulting International made math errors and other miscalculations in the 211-page document. Instead of saving taxpayers $10 million as the study claimed, merging ambulance and fire operations would actually cost Honolulu taxpayers $10 million if training costs are properly factored in, paramedics said.

ESCI conducted the study that advocates merging the city's firefighting and paramedic operations into one department.

The city's fire department paid $175,000 for the study that was completed a year ago, in June 2011.

ESCI is the for-profit arm of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, something that paramedics in Honolulu see as a bias toward the fire department. HFD Chief Kenneth Silva sits on the board of the IAFC but said he has nothing to do with how ESCI is run.

Some paramedics said the fire department tampered with the consultant selection process so that ESCI got selected for the merger study.

Three people – former Assistant Fire Chief Tommy Perkins, EMS Chief Patty Dukes and Paul Au, a lawyer from the city's Human Resources department -- evaluated study proposals from four companies in 2010, but ESCI's proposal tied with another company.

So Perkins, who's since retired, got Au, one of the evaluators, to change his scores and give ESCI a higher ranking, so the company was awarded the merger study contract.

In an email sent June 21, 2010, and cc'd to Silva, Perkins referred to city lawyer Paul Au, a member of the selection team.

"I spoke with purchasing on Friday about our scoring dilemma," Perkins wrote.

"They instructed me to discuss with Paul, his evaluation and whether he would consider reviewing and revising or just having the authority having jurisdiction (fire chief) make a selection.  After speaking with Paul on Friday I returned his packet to him so he could review and revise his score as he felt he needed," Perkins said.

Silva denied anything improper happened.

"There's absolutely no way that we would influence him or that he would allow us to influence him.  So, was the process tainted?  I doubt it in the slightest," Silva said.

EMS officials are concerned the selection process for the company that did the merger study was not fair.

"We want to make sure that process chose somebody who came out on top and that it was fair and everything was done the way it was supposed to," said Mark Rigg, deputy EMS director.

Silva asked if EMS officials were so concerned about the fairness of the consultant process, why did they wait nearly two years to complain about it?

"What's the motivation behind what they're saying, two years after the fact," asked Silva.

The merger has not gotten under way. Mayor Peter Carlisle is still putting together a panel to evaluate the study's outcome, a year after it was completed.

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