Missed deadlines for a written report on the county's emergency medical system were caused in part by officials who wanted to keep "sensitive" information out of the public eye, according to an assistant county administrator.
The explanation for the delay came in an Oct. 21 e-mail to Pinellas County commissioners written in response to a St. Petersburg Times article. The story highlighted the multiple missed deadlines in the time line set out in the county's $130,000 contract with Integral Performance Solutions.
A committee of local officials recruited by County Administrator Bob LaSala to look at Pinellas' fire and EMS systems "determined early on in the process that the information and recommendations presented by IPS would be extremely sensitive," assistant county administrator James Dates wrote. The group "suggested that (its) meetings be closed to the public until such time as the group was ready to present the study to the board of county commissioners."
The 20-member group is made up of city managers, fire chiefs and others whom LaSala recruited to help him find a solution to fire and EMS problems.
Dates' memo further explained that the delay was in part caused by scheduling problems in getting members of the group together. He added that another contributing factor was "the need to maintain oral interaction."
State law requires the county to release any written information should someone request it. If nothing is in writing, the county could keep its secrets.
LaSala conceded that having nothing in writing did contribute to the report's delay, but denied any bad intent.
"We're not trying to hide anything here," LaSala said. "We want to vet this in the community."
The idea behind the secrecy was a desire to have a "complete, thorough and accurate" report when it is released, which, LaSala said Thursday, should be in December. That's after the resource group meets again in November to hear from IPS and discuss final issues.
LaSala is doing his best to make sure nothing leaks before the final report is issued — members of the resource group are under a gag order banning them from disclosing the issues they have discussed. And, there will be no written draft.
"We don't need a draft," LaSala said. The final report will suffice as a catalyst for discussion about the system's future.
If the report is issued in December, that will be a full year after the county hired IPS. The company originally said it could have the study done in 23 weeks from a January starting date. But the contract established a longer schedule. IPS was supposed to turn over several written drafts the week of May 24 and a final written report the week of July 5.
Those dates passed with nothing written changing hands. And, in June, the county amended the contract by extending its ending date from November to February 2012. The amended time line called for a written draft the week of Aug. 30 and the final, written report by the week of Sept. 27.
Yet, those deadlines also passed. And, in the meantime, the county paid IPS $58,500 for work on the contract. The county also paid the company another $3,250 for a workshop on management skills.
Reach Anne Lindberg at [email protected] or (727) 893-8450.