EMS Board refuses to fire EMS heads
EMS Bookkeeper Carla Russell asked to voluntarily resign
The Gonzales County Emergency Medical Service Board of Directors held an emergency meeting last Thursday night to discuss the status of EMS Administrator James (Jim) Russell and his wife, EMS Bookkeeper Carla Russell, both of whom were arrested and charged with criminal wrongdoing earlier in the week.
After calling the meeting to order, the board immediately adjourned into executive session for one hour before coming back to make four specific recommendations.
To the surprise of the EMS personnel assembled in the Riverside Community Center, they did not recommend to terminate either James nor Carla Russell.
What the board did recommend was to request that Carla Russell voluntarily resign her position from EMS. No provision was discussed publicly as to what alternatives the board would consider if she refused to voluntarily resign.
Prior to taking the action with regard to Carla, the board had voted unanimously to hire an I.T. person to come in and back up the computers and other data sources, voted unanimously to name attorney Jackie Williamson as the media contact for the board while the scandal plays out, voted to name JoAnn Mercer as the bookkeeper and payroll administrator going forward, and named Allen Linebrink as the Administrator of Record for Gonzales County EMS. Linebrink has been serving as the interim director of EMS during the leave of absence of James Russell. His appointment had overwhelming support from the EMS personnel who were in attendance on Thursday night. EMS also has a history of working with Mercer, as she did a cursory audit of the books a few years ago as requested by the administrator. The audit was approved and Mercer was paid. According to EMS personnel, she did not find any untoward activity in her audit.
The room was filled with over 25 current and county wide members of the EMS, who wanted to hear firsthand what the board would recommend. Prior to the allegations against James Russell and his wife, EMS employees were strictly prohibited by James Russell from attending the board meetings or having any interaction with any of the board members. According to EMS members, the board members were fed before every meeting by the Russells. Employees were invited to enter the board room and make a plate of food, but were then told they had to leave and were not allowed to attend any of the meetings. It is unclear who paid for the meals.
Many members of EMS were stunned by the board’s decision, and shook their heads in disbelief.
The Gonzales Inquirer has asked numerous EMS personnel if they have heard from any of the 12 board members since the allegations against the Russells first surfaced. According to everyone the Inquirer talked to, not one board member has come forward to ask them what they knew or to offer their support.
On Sunday afternoon, EMS personnel were startled to see Mercer and the Russells enter the EMS building on St. Joseph Street. No administrator was in the building, no board members were present, nor was the board attorney. Gonzales City Police were called and investigated. Their presence in the building is in direct violation of the requirement that at least one board member be present if either Carla or James was to enter the EMS building.
The Russells have retained Robert Bland as their legal counsel, and some EMS Board members have quietly sought legal counsel for themselves.
The EMS Board consists of: Barbara Hand, Bubba Hermann, Sam Turk, Lois Wilman, Sally Brown, Vic Brown, Frank Benes, John Telly, Gilbert Philippus, Ray Nietch, Dr. Bob Williamson and David Irbarak.
The board will reconvene in two weeks.