The city of Powell has sent a cease-and-desist letter to Liberty Township in an effort to stop the township’s proposed changes to its emergency medical services.

The letter cites a 2002 agreement between Powell and Liberty called the Cooperative Economic Development Agreement.

According to the letter, the township “knowingly and purposefully (initiating) negotiations with Delaware County to contract for EMS services and cease township EMS services” would “amount to a default under Article 6, Section 1 of the CEDA.”

The letter says terms of the CEDA not only bind the two entities to provide existing services, but prohibit them from changing the quality of those services.

Powell Mayor Jon Bennehoof said that’s exactly what the proposed EMS changes would do. He cited plans to move from three- to two-man crews and change from three trucks to two, laying off much of the current Liberty Township fire department.

While one portion of the agreement – which set a moratorium for annexation north of Home Road – expired last spring, Bennehoof said the rest is still in place.

“The full CEDA agreement, with the exception of that clause, is in full effect,” he said. “There is a section in there that says services will be maintained at status quo, and if the county were to take over the EMS, it would be a diminution of services.”

Bennehoof said he checked with multiple legal entities before the letter was sent, and said he’s extremely confident the city’s stance is solid.

If the township doesn’t stop pursuing the change, Bennehoof said the matter would be “decided in the courts.”

“Because I was committed to this, I vetted this with outside counsel and then vetted it with our legal counsels for council as well as our city attorney,” he said. “I’m very confident that we’re on firm ground here. The CEDA agreement is a tacit agreement between the township and city. It is a contract. And if further action proceeds from this point, other than stopping it, we’re on very firm ground and it is breach of contract.”

For Liberty Township Trustee Mike Gemperline – one of two trustees, along with Melanie Leneghan, who supports looking into the EMS change – this new step is enough to shut down the conversation entirely.

“Until (I receive) legal advice, as far as I’m concerned, I can’t move forward with anything,” he said of the letter.

Gemperline said Delaware County Prosecutor Carol O’Brien, who serves as the township’s legal counsel, has recused herself from the conversation because of a conflict of interest with Powell, meaning the township is in the dark until it can find other legal counsel.

“We’ve got to reach out on our own, should we decide to do that,” he said.

O’Brien herself couldn’t confirm that due to attorney-client privilege, she said, but she did say that conceptually, her office removes itself from cases that involve two communities it could represent.

“If there is a clear conflict of interest, we can represent neither,” she said.

Gemperline said the combination of factors – Powell’s pushback and the legal questions – means he won’t act on an EMS topic until he has more information.

“It will have an impact on me,” he said. “I won’t talk about anything about this until I get any legal advice that I’m OK to do so. So as far as I’m concerned, the issue doesn’t exist.”

Leneghan and township Trustee Shyra Eichhorn did not return calls or emails for comment.

Liberty Township trustees are scheduled to discuss the issue at their meeting Monday, Dec. 17, though no legislative action is on the agenda.

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