Palo Alto Weekly

News - December 10, 2010

Palo Alto drops EMS study, fires consultant

City claims consultant missed deadlines, pays $33,000 for the $47,000 study

by Gennady Sheyner

Palo Alto's review of the city's emergency medical services (EMS) is facing a delay after the city fired the consultant performing a study, citing missed deadlines and inaccurate figures.

The consultant, Phoenix-based Public Safety Research Group, countered that it has already performed the bulk of the work it was commissioned to do and that the data it was analyzing came straight from the city. The firm was hired last fall to analyze the city's EMS and had presented its preliminary findings to the City Council in April.

Jon Altmann, owner of the firm, said he was surprised by the city's termination of its contract last month. His group had already analyzed the data and produced a 278-page report with recommendations. It was in the process of performing the final edits when the city terminated its agreement.

"I thought we had an amicable relationship," Altmann told the Weekly. "Certainly, nothing ever came up during the course of business."

He acknowledged that the study took longer than expected to produce, but said the city contributed to the missed deadlines. For example, even though the city awarded the project to PSRG in August 2009, it didn't provide the company with a written contract until November, Altmann said. As a result, the firm couldn't begin working until December, he said.

"The city dragged out the process and made it longer than we thought it would be," Altmann said.

The contract termination was the second time in the past year that the city has fired a consultant who was analyzing services in the Fire Department. In April, the city terminated its contract with the firm Emergency Services Consulting International, which was looking into staffing levels in the fire department. Members of the City Council said they felt the study would be "biased" after the consultant told them he had never recommended staffing reductions in the past.

News about the latest contract termination emerged Monday night when Assistant City Manager Pamela Antil told the City Council that the anticipated study has been dropped. She said the city has given PSRG several deadlines, but the firm failed to meet them. The city paid the firm about $33,000 of the $47,000 in the contract.

Antil also said there were inaccuracies in the data the firm provided to the Fire Department.

Altmann disputed the allegations of inaccuracies. He also said his firm's analysis largely confirmed the tentative findings it presented to the council in the spring. It concluded that the city's EMS is doing a good job and the citizens of Palo Alto are getting a "good, prompt service."

"If Palo Alto were a private ambulance company, I'd say it's performing well," Altmann said. "I don't think you can get a much better statement of public operation."

The service is expected to become more critical in the coming years. Another study, performed jointly by TriData and ICMA, estimated that medical calls would make up more than 64 percent of the incidents the Fire Department will be responding to in 2025. The number of medical calls has gone up by 48 percent between 2000 and 2009, the consultant found.

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be e-mailed at gsheyner@paweekly.com.

Comments

Posted by Time-For-A-Regional-Fire-Department, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 9, 2010 at 10:37 am

> citing missed deadlines and inaccurate figures.
> and that the data it was analyzing came straight from the city

Government provided data is notoriously unreliable. Just because the City gave the consultant some data, doesn't mean that it's accurate.

If the City decided that data was inaccurate, then it should have identified the inaccuracies in some sort of "memo", providing the data it believed to be accurate at that time to the consultant. If the City found what would be "typos", or "mangled" data in a draft of the report, then it should have identified the errors it believed to have crept into the work in this memo. If there is no official notification (via memo, or some other agreed upon communication format), then the claim by the City becomes questionable. There is also the possibility of statistics developed by the consultant, based on data believed to be accurate. Again, the City should have documented these alleged errors in a memo.

So .. where are these memos? Will any of the local papers actually dig into this matter in any detail? How many "inaccuracies" is the City claiming?




Posted by jerryl, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Dec 9, 2010 at 11:58 am

Smells like someone got a hint of what the report was getting ready to say and wanted to quash it.


Posted by Sonny, a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 9, 2010 at 12:10 pm

jerryl,
Ditto that!


Posted by jardins, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 9, 2010 at 1:26 pm

If the report was so deficiently based, why did the city pay as much as $33,000 for it? Normally, "kill-fees" are only 50%--in this case, $23,500.


Posted by An insider, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Dec 9, 2010 at 1:44 pm

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

We may not have our way in each & every detail, because after all, those hired are (supposed to be) experts in their fields. But let's have some communication and open dialog at least. No more "inside" hires based on almost nepotism, for lack of better words.

City council is clueless, as are most top managers in Palo Alto, from Jim Keene's office on down. The public has been made aware of that, and yet it's business as usual with no pressure for change.

It's not just Human Relations that Frank Benest influenced, it was the City Manager's position too, if I remember correctly.

Citizens of Palo Alto - wake up. This is YOUR government.


Posted by Jake, a resident of another community
on Dec 9, 2010 at 2:04 pm

Just like the first study the City Council and City Managers Office killed I'm sure this study was going to contain data the City felt would show the PAFD is not "overstaffed" or has "too many units"

I really find it curious that this study, the prior one that was killed off and the results as of now study present at Mondays Council meeting were either killed before the November election or in the Monday night case released after the Election.
No data or results were released PRIOR to the election in November.
Monday nights telecast cleary pointed out that there have been cuts and reductions in the PAFD. People on the Council past and present like Lani Wheeler professed that the PAFD had not taken cuts like other depts had in these tough finacial times.
How many studys are the tax payers and the city going to contract for until the City Manager and City Council get the "facts and data" wink wink, they feel will justify their intention to gut the dept?

When this is all over it will make the tree cutting incident on California Ave look like a leaf in a pile of leafs.


Posted by Deep Throat, a resident of another community
on Dec 9, 2010 at 2:38 pm

The City Council's Finance Committee received interim reports from both consulting firms at its April 20, 2010, meeting.

The work of Emergency Services Consulting was criticized by Council Members at the meeting and then the City Manager terminated their contract.

Nobody criticized the work of Public Safety Research Group at the April 20 Finance Committee meeting, but now more than eight months later the City Manager's office is telling us there is a problem with that consultant too.

Here are the staff reports and meeting minutes that informed the City Council about what Public Safety Research Group was doing, or was supposed to be doing.

February 16, 2010, staff report to City Council: Web Link

April 20, 2010, staff report to Finance Committee: Web Link

April 20, 2010, Finance Committee minutes: Web Link

The 278-page report prepared by the consultant is a public record that is required to be made available to the press and public because it was paid for by public funds.


Posted by Deep Throat, a resident of another community
on Dec 9, 2010 at 3:15 pm

The Finance Committee discussion about the report prepared by Public Safety Research Group is at PDF pages 18 through 24 of 32 of the April 20, 2010, Finance Committee minutes: Web Link


Posted by who cares, a resident of Triple El
on Dec 9, 2010 at 3:31 pm

oh well, it's only $33,000 of our tax money.....


Posted by Veritas, a resident of another community
on Dec 9, 2010 at 3:41 pm

This points once again to an intergity problem in the City Manager's Office. A good spin is not a good substitute for the truth. What really happened here? Not the pr spin, the truth.


Posted by anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 10, 2010 at 3:59 am

clueless taxpayer here...but why can't a LOCAL firm be hired for such consultant jobs? -Easier to keep tabs on them, one would think.


Posted by Sonny, a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 10, 2010 at 7:29 am

Why use a consultant? Can't the city figure this morass out by themselves? Instead, they pick and choose consultants who will obey the party line and give them the answers they are seeking. Pretty lame politics.


Posted by Sonny, a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 10, 2010 at 7:29 am

Why use a consultant? Can't the city figure this morass out by themselves? Instead, they pick and choose consultants who will obey the party line and give them the answers they are seeking. Pretty lame politics.


Posted by Jake, a resident of another community
on Dec 10, 2010 at 10:30 am

The City of Palo Alto started paramedic transport ambulance service in the mid 1970's!! One ambulance 24 hours per day.
Fast forward to 2010, the number of emergency medical aid calls has gone up by the THOUSANDS per year. Today there is an additional ambulance half time, ie 12 hours per day. 1.5 ambulances.
The emergency calls have increased by hundreds of perentages more.
The PAFD does not have enough ambulances to handle the call increase, so a private ambulance is called in from places like Santa Clara, Sunnyvale to respond into Palo Alto, ie DELAY in service.
How many thousands of calls per year does the City think 1.5 ambulances can take care of?
The PAFD ambulance's actualy generate revenue for the because they bill insurance companies for service (lower rate than privates) just like the private for profit ambulances do.
In my opinion the City of Palo Alto is just shopping around for a hired consultant to make a report the City Council and City Manager will be happy with (ie document saying their true agenda).

I wish some newspaper would request using the FIA the amount of money the City of Palo Alto has spent on "consultants and studies" for the last ten year period of time. I feel most people would be shocked to see the amount of money spent for people to do the City Managers and City Councils job.
Any press out there listening? I would much rather read about that HUGE issue instead of the CA Ave trees for the 100th time.


Posted by who cares, a resident of Triple El
on Dec 10, 2010 at 2:38 pm

oh well, it's only $33,000... Don't know why "Jake" and "Fireman" argue nonsense when it's obvious Keene and Klein want a biased report to meet their political agenda. Only wish we had a City Manager who could think for himself and not be a YES man for city council members. Guess when you're given a $2,000,000 house remodeled at city taxpayer expense on top of your property taxes paid by city residents it tends to sway you to sell out. Guess thats what politics is all about.


Posted by Jake, a resident of another community
on Dec 10, 2010 at 5:32 pm

"who cares it's only $33,000"??

I care, it's $33,000 for this quit study, $60,000 for that study, etc. It adds up, when you hear consultants findings of almost no public fire education, lack of inspectors, lack of training, etc etc etc.
That wasted $33,000 would have paid for other needed things like part of the cost of a new ambulance (which are over ten years old)
equipment, training classes, CPR or first aid classes for the general public, and so on.
It appears the "consultants" are given an agenda and then they package "data" in a way to formulate into the ultimate goal of making cutbacks and "privatizing" parts of the dept.
Add that wasted $33,000 to the millions of dollars spent on consultants the last ten years alone, thats a lot of money for a lot of paper, much of what the consultants do is stuff the Council and City Manager should be doing.


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