Powell city leaders are deliberating how they can act to stop or slow down proposed changes to Liberty Township's emergency medical services.

Last week, Liberty Township trustees met in front of a frustrated and angry crowd to discuss a plan to replace the township's services with Delaware County's EMS, an idea that has been met with unprecedented ire from residents.

Liberty Township fire and EMS also serves residents of Powell.

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 reportedly would save the township an uncertain amount on reimbursements to the township and other fees paid.

Hundreds attended the Dec. 3 meeting, with many donning red T-shirts that read "Save Liberty Fire/EMS" on the front, and 36 residents spoke in opposition to the proposed changes.

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.

Despite those speakers and Township Trustee Shyra Eichhorn's vehement arguments against the change, Trustees Melanie Leneghan and Michael Gemperline declined to second Eichhorn's motions to close discussion of the proposal or to create a task force that would investigate the proposal.

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 during the meeting.

The next day, the discussion moved to Powell, where Powell City Council took more than an hour out of its regular agenda to discuss the topic.

City Council allowed any Liberty Township and Powell residents to speak, and some of the emotional testimonies from the night before spilled over into Powell's meeting, with residents pleading for help.

"We're not going to get help from the county and we're obviously not going to get help from the trustees," resident Jim Hurt said. "We have nowhere else to turn but to this body. ... You must do something."

Even Eichhorn herself spoke as a resident to ask Powell leaders to help in whatever way they could.

"We have a great deal of respect between us," she said. "You have matters you vote on, we have matters we vote on, and I do want to respect that. However, this is a very different kind of situation. We are not talking about an apartment complex. We are not talking about a housing development. We are talking about the safety and well-being of all of our residents."

The question is: What can Powell do?

Unanimously, all seven council members spoke in relatively passionate support for the Liberty Township fire and EMS department.

Councilman Tom Counts said he's "always been very skeptical about this proposal."

"As a city, we could have our own fire department; we could have our own EMS; we could have our own school system," he said. "We choose not to because we get excellent service from what we have. I think that, in itself, is the basis for being very concerned about what's being considered."

Councilman Daniel Swartwout relayed a story about his sister being saved by Liberty Township EMS.

"I look at this issue as an elected official whose constituents have told us overwhelmingly what they believe on this issue," he said. "I also look at this issue, as many of the folks out there do, as a family who is a frequent flyer for Liberty fire and EMS."

Councilman Frank Bertone even responded directly to Eichhorn.

"Tonight, I heard a friend ask for assistance," he said. "Shyra, I hear you. I've been pushing back for a while because we have a respectful, fine line of how we respect one another and what we can and cannot do. But this matter involves all of us as a community."

But the city does not have any governing power over Liberty Township and its fire and EMS services, despite the fact that its residents use those services.

"What I'm concerned about is what can we, as City Council, legally do? What can we do that won't put us in a worse position?" Councilwoman Melissa Riggins said. "I'd just like us to have the opportunity to discuss with our legal counsel what we really can do. ... We have to be careful, as the city, in what we do."

Ultimately, council agreed to take largely symbolic actions and discuss the issue further in private.

Councilman Brendan Newcomb proposed a "voice vote" declaring city leaders' opposition to the change, a written resolution of support for Liberty fire and EMS to be signed at council's next meeting, and asked communications director Megan Canavan to add a message on the issue to the city's website.

All council members agreed with his ideas.

After the meeting, council entered into a closed session to discuss the topic with its legal team and decide its next steps. No further action was taken.

Powell City Council will meet next Tuesday, Dec. 18. The Liberty Township board of trustees will meet Monday, Dec. 17.

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