In front of an angry, over-capacity crowd Dec. 3, Liberty Township trustees declined to take any action related to the future of the township’s emergency medical services.
The trustees were considering a plan to replace the township's services with Delaware County’s EMS, an idea that has been met with unprecedented ire from residents.
Township trustees have discussed a proposal from Delaware County that would replace the township’s cross-trained fire and EMS services with their own exclusively EMS-trained crews. The change would reportedly save the township an uncertain amount on reimbursements to the township and other fees paid.
Hundreds attended the Dec. 3 meeting, with the vast majority donning red T-shirts that read “Save Liberty Fire/EMS” on the front.
Before the meeting began, township fire officials were required to send a large group out of the township’s meeting room because it was well over capacity. While the meeting progressed in one room, dozens of people who couldn’t fit inside waited in adjoining rooms and outside for their turn to address the trustees or simply to listen.
“Why wasn’t this meeting moved to a bigger space, as was requested?” someone shouted from the crowd.
Pre-emptively, Trustee Melanie Leneghan asked where police presence was in the room.
Over the course of more than two hours, 36 township residents spoke in front of the trustees. Of those 36, 35 were staunchly against the change. They shared concerns that the process was moving too quickly, that there would be a reduction in quality, that there may be slower response times and that the change likely would result in layoffs at the Liberty Township fire department.
The only speaker who was not vehemently against the change took a neutral stance, and simply said she appreciates the township is willing to look at saving money
Among those speaking in opposition to the change were Powell Mayor Jon Bennehoof, Powell police Chief Gary Vest, two housing association presidents, a nurse and six former fire or EMS employees.
“I believe it’s bad for both sides,” Vest said of the proposal.
After just 40 minutes of speakers, Leneghan attempted to cut public comment short, but was stopped by Trustee Shyra Eichhorn. The comments went on for more than 90 minutes after that.
Eichhorn, who was staunchly opposed to the change from the beginning of the meeting, first proposed that the three trustees stop considering the change altogether.
“I think it’s our job to listen to our constituents,” she said. “On most heated discussions, there is at least one person who stands up and speaks up for the other side. I didn’t hear that tonight. … I think there’s a problem when the voters have spoken … and we still move forward with even analyzing it.”
When that motion didn’t receive a second, she attempted to introduce a plan that would establish a task force to research the proposal over a period of six months.
Again, Leneghan and Trustee Michael Gemperline declined to second the motion, preferring to take no action.
When Leneghan and Gemperline didn’t act, the crowd was incensed. Shouts of “resign!” and “liar!” filled the room, while Leneghan banged a gavel and occasionally shouted back.
Ultimately, neither Leneghan nor Gemperline were willing to commit to any decisions on the evening.
Eichhorn proposed that the township send postcards to each resident explaining the decision they were making and when a vote would take place, which Gemperline said he could “potentially” support, but would not vote on. Leneghan said the postcards were not necessary.
Eichhorn also requested that the next conversation on the topic be held after January because of holiday travel, and Leneghan and Gemperline were noncommittal on when they would hold a vote.
The EMS-related portion of the meeting ended with another shouting session between Leneghan and audience members, with Leneghan again threatening to have police remove people from the building.
“We need to have our meeting!” Leneghan shouted over crowd noise, moving from the EMS topic to other business.
The issue is expected to be discussed again at the township’s Dec. 17 meeting.