Broken promises and hidden agendas.
Those phrases were tossed around Wednesday at a Rotterdam Town Board meeting, where one contract with Rotterdam Emergency Medical Services was tabled and another never considered.
“I think there’s hidden agendas,” Dean Romano, REMS’ director of operations, said after the meeting. “The whole RFP [request for proposals] process has been hidden agendas.”
Negotiations have been ongoing since the Town Board voted 3-2 in December to award the ambulance service contract to the town’s longtime nonprofit provider, REMS, over the for-profit Mohawk Ambulance, which has courted the town for more than a decade. Town Supervisor Harry Buffardi and Deputy Supervisor Wayne Calder, both Democrats, voted against awarding the contract to REMS.
On Wednesday, the Town Board tabled a contract proposed by Buffardi — emailed to Romano at 4:15 p.m. that day — and agreed to hold a work session with REMS in the near future to work out an agreement.
Republican Town Board member Joe Villano called the last-minute contract a “phantom contract.”
“Ever since December, the administration has had absolutely no intention, in my mind, of ever giving REMS the contract,” he said. “They have done everything to make the contract as little palatable as possible for REMS.”
Romano said the latest contract’s reporting requirements were too stringent and asked the board to table it.
“Every time we move an ambulance from one side of the street to the other side, they want us to report that,” he said.
Romano asked the board to instead vote on a contract that was worked out with the town’s Emergency Medical Review Board in June and presented to the Town Board in July. The recently re-established review board, chaired by Villano, includes Republican Town Board member Rick Larmour and members of the public, the fire and police departments and REMS.
The Town Board on Wednesday voted 2-2 to add the contract to the agenda, so it did not pass. Villano and Larmour voted yes and Buffardi and Calder voted no, with Mike Viscusi, a Conservative, abstaining.
Villano shook his head in disgust.
“I’m sorry to disappoint you,” Viscusi said.
“A promise is a promise, Mike,” Villano said.
Viscusi argued he wanted all parties involved to agree on a contract, and one more month of negotiating wouldn’t hurt anybody.
“And that’s exactly what you told me at the last meeting, which is why I did not bring it to a vote at that point,” Villano said.
Villano said Thursday that Viscusi had agreed at the July board meeting to vote with him on the contract and even reassured him of that Sunday, when they ran into each other at the Our Lady Queen of Peace Festa.
Viscusi initially tried to recuse himself from the vote, but Town Attorney Kate McGuirl advised him a recusal typically means there is a conflict of interest.
“He couldn’t even say no,” Villano said. “He tried to weasel out of it — he tried to recuse himself. It’s not even a recusal issue.”
He added, “The person who should be recusing himself is Wayne Calder, because his family has an interest in Mohawk [Ambulance].”
Calder’s son-in-law is the director of operations for Mohawk Ambulance, and his granddaughter works for the ambulance company part-time. Calder said that isn’t a conflict because he doesn’t work for Mohawk.
“Neither one of those jobs benefit me,” he said. “If I choose to, I can vote.”