SEOEMS chief resigns over contract

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 24, 2010

Unhappy with proposed pay, benefits cuts

It was dissatisfaction with proposed salary and benefit cuts that made Eric Kuhn resign from his post as executive director of the Southeast Ohio Emergency Medical Services District.

That’s what Kuhn says motivated him to leave the job he has had heading up SEOEMS for the past 15 years.

On Oct.1 Kuhn gave his resignation effective Oct. 31, to the executive committee of the SEOEMS board, which met this past Wednesday making Kuhn’s decision public. Kuhn’s contract was to have expired on Nov. 12 and if a new agreement was not negotiated Kuhn would begin working on a month-to-month basis.

Email newsletter signup

He offered his resignation “to protect the rights that I have under my current employment agreement … by giving notice it preserves my rights as far as what I am owed when I leave,” Kuhn said in an interview with The Tribune.

Kuhn had been negotiating a new three-year contract with the board since Aug. 20.

“I had met with the board and discussed to continue the contract and I thought we had come to an agreement,” Kuhn said.

However when the director got the contract back in writing it was not what he thought both sides had negotiated.

“(There were) extreme cuts of pay and giving up certain benefits that was not acceptable,” he said.

That’s when he tendered his resignation.

Currently Kuhn makes $76,000 a year on a contract that had given him incremental pay raises. He also was allowed to accrue vacation days up to three times his annual allotment. There was no cap on the number of sick days that could be accrued.

The contract the SEOEMS board offered Kuhn would have required his taking a 10 percent pay cut as well as not allowing him accruals of more vacation or sick days than he already had, he said.

“When I looked at other provisions, it appeared as a total compensation cut of $18,000 to $20,000 a year,” he said.

Cash flow problems due in part from poor bill collections and incomplete financial records have recently put the future of the district that provides ambulance service for Lawrence, Jackson and Athens counties in question. Already commissioners from Jackson and Athens have publicly said they want out.

On Sept. 30, the Ohio Auditor of State determined that the district was unauditable and has given it 90 days to clear up its records.

“The SEOEMS book balance did not reconcile to the bank balance throughout the entire audit period,” according to the letter from Mary Taylor to SEOEMS. “Also the 2008 and 2009 activity has not been posted to the cashbook, receipts ledger and appropriations ledger. Finally the annual report for 2008 and 2009 has not been prepared and submitted to the Auditor of State.”

Much of the district’s financial woes have been publicly laid at the feet of Micah McCathren, the fiscal officer from September 2009 to June 2010.

In a press release issued Wednesday, Kuhn stated that he “advised board officers in the fall of 2009 that the Fiscal Officer was not diligently working with staff on developing the 2010 budget” (causing the November Board meeting to be postponed) and in the Spring of 2010 that he had concerns about whether the Fiscal Officer was making federal and state income tax payments.

“(Kuhn) said that the executive committee met with the fiscal officer and questioned him regarding these matters and that the committee was assured by the fiscal officer that everything in order.

“Essentially, I was told that the fiscal officer reports to the board, and I should allow the board to take care of it,”’ Kuhn said.”

Kuhn also said in the release that he had asked the board whether he should monitor the fiscal officer and was told not to “because the fiscal officer reports to the board.”

Financial reporting concerns came about because of software problems. The district had been using aging program that was producing inaccurate reports, Kuhn said.

“It was 18 years old and giving corrupt figures and not calculating correctly,” he said.

Two new software programs were brought in, but neither was set up fully to produce reports, he said.

Now the district has only two months left to get their financial records up to the state auditor’s standards. That is one of the reasons MedCare, the Columbus-based health organization, has been brought on board, according to Lawrence County Commissioner and SEOEMS board member Jason Stephens.

Medcare will receive $15,000 for its services for November. Further associations with the organization may be decided upon at the board’s Nov. 9 meeting.

“And the board has hired an outside accountant to get the books reconciled, which they are,” Stephens said. “The accounting issues go back to 2007 and 2008 before I was on the board. We have been trying to fix them and are trying to make a lot of changes.

“We are bringing in outside folks to make sure it is being done correctly. This board is nine people from three different counties and it is hard to make changes quickly, but we have made a lot of changes. It is definitely improving.”

As to Kuhn’s statements on his contract, Stephens declined to go into specifics.

“The board intends to honor the contract with the executive director and other than that I don’t feel it is appropriate to comment on things that are discussed in executive session.”