Tensions between the Ogdensburg City Manager and the Ogdensburg Volunteer Rescue Team continue to rise in a thread of emails posted Friday.
At a city council meeting on Monday, OVRS Chief of Emergency Services Kenneth J. Gardner responded to public comments to address a situation regarding two $78,000 payments for five new automated external defibrillators. , AEDs.
“It hasn’t been a problem with OVRS and the city of Ogdensburg,” Gardner said. “It started when Mr Jellie came to us and said he didn’t think the city was doing enough for us, is there anything they could do for us. We told him we needed to buy new defibrillators, which we were financially ready to do ourselves, but he made the offer, and we said if the city would like to do it for us, that would be great.
As a result, in 2021, OVRS received a payment of $78,000 for five new automated external defibrillators. In May, a discussion took place about sending a second payment to OVRS. City Manager Stephen P. Jellie told councilors the OVRS did not receive the second payment because they did not send the city its financial report for 2021.
In Mr. Gardner’s statement at Monday’s city council meeting, he said he sent Mr. Jellie the department’s annual report in late February. He also said he had asked to present the annual report to the city council, as per their agreement, on four occasions and had been refused each time.
Following Mr. Gardner’s public comment, Mr. Jellie emailed Mr. Gardner, thanking him for appearing, but “respectfully disagreeing with most of what you have said.”
In the emails, Mr Jellie said his assessment of the OVRS indicated that “there are financial and personal difficulties”. He also said St. Lawrence County also claimed the county’s entire EMS system was in serious jeopardy.
“The OVRS is not exempt from the stern warning posted by SLC officials and you know it,” Mr Jellie said. “Your covering up of obvious problems and your attempt to paint a rosy picture of the past, instead of working with me to fill in the gaps and seek out real solutions, is unprofessional and violates common sense.”
He ended the email by stating that he thinks there needs to be a leadership change at OVRS.
“I will continue to advise City Council on this, and also for the record, I strongly believe that a complete change of leadership at OVRS is necessary for the organization to remain viable,” he said. “My opinion on this is shared by many members of the local/regional EMS community and by the many former members who have left due to failed leadership. EMS is a serious subject that needs to be addressed in a open, transparent and inclusive and I assure you that it will happen.
In response to that email, Mr. Gardner replied, “The only place that needs a change in leadership is the City Manager of Ogdensburg. You have done nothing but throw this town into turmoil.
Mr. Gardner also highlighted the gains made by OVRS while he was chief of emergency services.
“During my tenure, we grew from two ambulances to four to be able to handle the steady annual increase in calls and mutual aid from other services,” Gardner said. “Our revenue has increased and we do that by charging the people we treat to avoid putting people in collections ruining their credit rating.”
He also said that the OVRS has always paid and continues to pay its bills, has an excellent credit rating, buys the necessary equipment and has the necessary staff to handle an ever-increasing call volume.
“We had the funds and were planning to buy everything we needed to continue the care we have always provided,” Gardner said in the email response. “Things then changed when the Ogdensburg Volunteer Rescue Team didn’t come out and support your decision to cut the Ogdensburg Fire Department, in fact you got even crazier with us because some members, alone and not speaking on behalf of the OVRS, have expressed truthful disagreement with you in public.
Mr. Gardner ended the email by saying, “We will no longer sit back and take your personal attacks on an organization that has served the city of Ogdensburg for over sixty-two years.”
“I don’t understand the problem he has with us,” Mr Gardner said. “Trying to suppress a voluntary organization that has worked for 62 years in the city, I think speaks well of the gentleman.”