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Committee formed to study feasibility of naming Johnson County EMS primary transport provider

By Marlana Ward

The Johnson County Commissioners met in regular session on May 18th, 2017.  All commissioners were present and eager to hear the business to be brought before them by the public, local businesses, and officials.  The meeting was brought to order at 7:00 pm by Mike Taylor.  Huey Long led those in attendance in prayer and roll was called by Johnson County Clerk, Tammie Fenner.
Following the order of agenda, Taylor began the public comments portion of the meeting by asking Jim Gilley and Janice Atkinson Russell to approach the podium and present the commissioners with their proposed business.  Russell began by expressing gratitude for Johnson County and the history that her family has had with the county for the past 50 years as owners and operators of WMCT, the only local radio station in Johnson County.  Russell explained how she hoped that her family’s legacy and tradition of serving the county would continue through her and now her daughter’s involvement with the station.  Russell shared how WMCT now simulcasts on the FM frequency of 102.9 as well as the well-known am frequency of 1390.
Gilley explained to the commissioners how the present location of their FM antenna was not ideal and that the residents of Johnson County were unable to receive the signal due to the manner in which FM frequency waves are unable traverse the mountainous terrain of our area.  It is the wish of WMCT to be permitted to move their FM antenna to the location of the Johnson County Sherriff’s Department’s radio tower to allow for better FM coverage and thus allowing more of the public to have access to the community information WMCT provides.  Gilley shared how they have had engineers visit the site of the department’s tower to explore the feasibility of the move.  Upon inspection by the engineers, the tower was found to need immediate repair to guidelines as well as other small repairs.  Russell stated that she would be very willing to help with the costs of the repairs to the tower in exchange for allowing WMCT to have their antenna placed there.  The costs were estimated to be under $1,000 for all repairs.
The commissioners asked Sheriff Mike Reece if he was aware of the needed repairs and he stated that he had not been made aware until Mr. Gilley and the engineer had visited the site.  He explained that Tri-Cities’ Communications, the county’s official radio service and maintenance providers, had been made aware of the needed repairs and would be visiting the site soon to provide their own estimate for the charge.   Sheriff Reece then assured the commission that regardless of what was decided about the WMCT antenna, the repairs would have to be made for the tower to be safely operational.
Christopher Pierce asked about the possibility of the antenna’s interference with county emergency services communications whose antennas and repeaters are also found on the tower.  Sherriff Reece as well as Gilley assured them that engineers have found that there should be no interference caused by the FM antenna.  The commission made certain that WMCT understood they would be responsible for any possible interference caused by their antenna.  Because the cost of the repair was estimated to be less than $1,000 and Russell‘s commitment to assist with the costs, the commission first voted to waive the need for the proposal of the antenna relocation to be presented before the budget committee.  The motion to allow WMCT the use of the tower was then made by Tommy Poore and seconded by Scott Mast.  The vote carried unanimously.  Mike Taylor thanked WMCT for their continued service to Johnson County.
April’s minutes, new notary applications, county bonds, and budget amendments previously given to the commissioners for review before the meeting were all accepted unanimously.
The next topic of discussion was the need for a new records policy and resolution for the Johnson County government.  County Accounting and Budget Director Russell Robinson informed the commission that as per the state, Johnson County must have a public records policy in place by July 1st.  The state is requiring that all counties have a clear procedure in place to make public records available for citizens who request the files to follow.  Robinson had previously given the commissioners a copy of the proposed resolution to review.  The resolution would cover all government departments with the exception of the school system.  The school system would be exempt from the policy due to the fact that they already have their own policy regarding public files in place.
The first concern voiced about the policy was the way in which businesses that regularly request records from the deeds or assessor’s office would be affected by this resolution.  It was expressed by Rick Snyder how this increase in paperwork could affect agencies that need to be able to provide records in a timely manner to local businesses with whom they do regular business such as surveyors and real estate agencies.  Robinson stated that while it was not the intent for the policy to replace a system that currently works well for those involved in those areas, it could be read in such a manner that would require further steps to access those files in accordance to the resolution.
It was asked if other county departments had been given the option of adopting their own policy such as the school system had done to exclude them from the resolution.   Sheriff Mike Reece stated that the sheriff’s department also had its own policy and procedure regarding the procurement of public records by citizens.   Robinson stated that he had been in contact with other departments and that no department had expressed a desire to be excluded.  After discussing the possible ramifications of the resolution as written, it was determined that the resolution should be tabled for the month and that each department should revisit the idea of implementing their own policy to ensure their office’s best option regarding the resolution.  The motion was made by Jerry Grindstaff and seconded by Scott Mast.  The vote was unanimous for tabling of the discussion and further work done to the resolution before adoption.
The last item on the night’s agenda was the request for a resolution made by Johnson County Rescue and EMS to be named the primary rescue provider/sole EMS provider for Johnson County.  This resolution would mean that no outside ambulatory service could enter Johnson County without being contacted by Johnson County EMS for dispatch.
The first person recognized to speak to the commission about the resolution was Johnson County citizen Ray Stout.  Stout came forward to express his concern that by allowing Johnson County EMS exclusive rights to medical transport within the county, that citizens would be forced to wait for extended periods when the emergency vehicles were busy with other calls.  He shared how the nursing home had to regularly reschedule doctor’s appointments for their patients because they were unable to secure transport by the EMS.  Stout further expressed how the resolution could be seen as a threat to free enterprise and how competition is good for any marketplace.  Stout’s final words were how he himself had worked for the EMS for 35 years and that a resolution such as this was not needed then and is not needed now.
For the rest of the story, pick up a copy of this week’s Tomahawk.