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Goldsmith fears delay in ambulance contract

Three months after getting a green light to embark on a new ambulance contract, San Diego’s City Hall has not yet started soliciting bids – and the city attorney is warning that delaying the process much further may not be “a legally acceptable option.”

In a letter to Mayor Bob Filner and the San Diego City Council last week, City Attorney Jan Goldsmith warned that if the city wants to delay the bidding and extend the existing contract, “it should do so in a legal manner.”

But Councilmember Marti Emerald, who chairs the committee that handles the contract, said she has been discussing the issue with Filner and is confident that he and the council “will take the action that best meets the needs of our citizens.”

The problems with the contract began in 2010, when a whistleblower lawsuit alleged that the current contractor – Rural/Metro of Scottsdale, Ariz. – was bilking the city out of millions of dollars through overcharges and fraudulently withholding fees.

An independent review cleared Rural/Metro of any illegalities last September. But by then, the company and the city had agreed to end their relationship by June 30, 2013, prompting the city to issue a request for proposals, or RFP, seeking new bidders.

Last spring, the city presented a draft RFP to the state and county governments, which jointly oversee ambulance services, and received final approval in October.

In the meanwhile, however, the city discovered it might be able to tap into federal funds recently made available to certain Medi-Cal service providers. It has slowed the release of the RFP until it can determine what the impact will be.

“Public safety is the most important service our city government provides,” Emerald said, adding that she is sure the council’s actions on the contract will reflect that.

Goldsmith, however, said it is unclear if the ambulance service will qualify for any new funds through the federal program, or if that funding will have any impact on the RFP. And he worries that if the city delays the RFP too long, it could run into legal problems. With less than six months to go before the current contract requires, there is limited time to draft a new RFP, get approvals from Sacramento and the county government and solicit the bids.

“If the city wants to seek a delay of the bidding and extension of the existing contract to explore the Medi-Cal reimbursements, it should do so in a legal manner,” Goldsmith wrote to the City Council and mayor last Friday. “Absent doing that, the city must move forward with the current RFP without delay. Simply not posting the RFP is not a legally acceptable option.”

Goldsmith said releasing the existing RFP would not prevent the city from incorporating the Medi-Cal changes into future ambulance contracts.

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