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East Hampton Ambulance Association Ordered to Dissolve

Thu, 06/13/2024 - 06:13
Members of the East Hampton Village Ambulance Association in earlier days, From left, Roy Kiger, Joe Shutler, Doc Able, Walt Cobb, and Harry Field.

On Friday, Justice Jerry Garguilo of the Supreme Court of Suffolk County ruled that the East Hampton Village Ambulance Association, a nonprofit that had served the village since 1975, could no longer exist, and ordered it dissolved. 

Mary Mott, the chief of the village’s new Department of Emergency Medical Service, filed the Article 78 petition against the ambulance association, the New York State Attorney General, and the Village of East Hampton in early April after someone tried to open a bank account in the name of the East Hampton Village Ambulance Association’s name. 

“I am relieved and glad the truth has come out and this situation is resolved and over,” Ms. Mott said in an email. In a report she planned to make at a Department of Emergency Medical Service meeting Monday night, she strongly signaled that there would be little tolerance for rehashing the past, and that the department was moving forward and focusing on its service to residents. 

Since May of last year when spurned members of the ambulance association held what the village called an illegal meeting and cast a vote of no-confidence against Ms. Mott, there has been confusion as to who was legally the head of the association. 

That confusion is no longer. The only remaining question is the fate of the nearly $400,000 in the East Hampton Village Ambulance Association’s bank account, which will be determined in a July 22 hearing before the judge. 

In addition, as part of the ruling, the attorney for the ambulance association, Joel Ziegler, has been disqualified as counsel. Because the judge determined that Teri Bertha is not the legal chief of the East Hampton Village Ambulance Association, she is unable to direct its actions through a lawsuit. 

“I am very disappointed, but that happens,” said Mr. Ziegler. He said he will continue to represent the volunteers listed in the lawsuit, though they will no longer hold titles as members of the East Hampton Village Ambulance Associaiton. 

The ruling voided the actions of the May 15, 2023, ambulance association meeting, which ousted Ms. Mott and her first assistant chief Mary Ellen McGuire, and placed Amanda Thompson as chief and Ms. Bertha as assistant chief. (In September, Ms. Thompson stepped down, Ms. Bertha became the chief, and Geraldine Merola became acting vice president.) The judge found that the meeting was not officially noticed and went against the bylaws of the East Hampton Village Ambulance Association. At that meeting, former members of the association who had previously resigned, were readmitted to vote out Ms. Mott and Ms. McGuire, and then the group started a GoFundMe page to raise money to retain Mr. Ziegler. 

“These acts have divided the membership to the point of confusing the public,” reads the decision. 

“Ms. Bertha tried to follow the bylaws in calling the meeting,” said Mr. Ziegler. “They questioned whether Ms. Mott could negotiate on behalf of the E.H.V.A.A., since she was a village employee. She had a conflict of interest. Had they asked her to hold the meeting to oust her, odds are she would have refused. The next best thing to do was to call the emergency meeting, and to inform the entire membership. But that wasn’t provided for in the bylaws, which I assume was the basis for the judge’s decision.” 

The East Hampton Village Ambulance Association was formed “for the sole purpose of supporting the village’s ambulance service and its volunteer members by recruiting and training new members. As a result of the actions taken by the members of the Corporation to raise money to retain a lawyer, the village of East Hampton will not permit the Corporation to serve its volunteer ambulance workers, thus making it impossible for the Corporation to fulfill its purposes,” read the decision. 

Instead, going forward, recruitment and training will be handled by a new nonprofit, the East Hampton Village Ambulance Members, which was created by the village last fall. 

“Everything the village wanted, we got,” said Marcos Baladron, the village administrator. “This is what we’ve been saying all along, I’m thrilled that the judge found in our favor.” 

Mayor Jerry Larsen too, was jubilant. “The whole thing was a fraud, done in a fraudulent means. They didn’t follow their own bylaws. Everything they did was illegal. I’m glad the judge saw through it because this is what I’ve been saying all along. The most important thing to come out of this is that it clears up any confusion with the public.” 

Ever since Mr. Larsen was first elected mayor during the Covid-19 pandemic in June 2020, his relationship with at least a segment of the East Hampton Village Ambulance Association has been strained. Communication between his administration and Lisa Charde, who was chief back then, was poor. 

A cultural divide developed between paid personnel, whom Mayor Larsen sought to add, and volunteers. In June 2022, the village added additional paid emergency medical technicians, and in August of that year, a longtime volunteer, Randy Hoffman, was suspended after a paid member accused him of saying they weren’t needed in the village. In July 2022, Brad Pinsky, a lawyer hired by the village to deal with the ambulance, was able to switch the East Hampton Village Ambulance Association’s ambulance service certificate to the village, with a simple email to the New York State Department of Health, eschewing a process typically overseen by the Suffolk County Regional Emergency Medical Services Council. 

In November 2022, Ms. Mott was elected chief by the ambulance volunteers. By March 2023, the village was holding a contentious public hearing to form a new Department of Emergency Medical Service, which divided the corps. Approximately 20 percent of volunteers quit or went exempt in response. In May 2023, the new department was voted into existence by the village board. 

“We had no mechanism in our bylaws to remove a traitor that got themselves elected under false pretenses intended to turn control of our organization to another entity,” said Ms. Merola. “It’s a betrayal from within and something we couldn’t have imagined in a million years.” 

“I assume we could appeal,” said Mr. Ziegler, “but there is no point. Appeals to the second department are backed up. The more expeditious route would be to form a new corporation and then continue their services if that’s what they choose to do. Not in the village. Because the village doesn’t want them.” 

“The judge will be deciding how to disburse the remaining assets of the E.H.V.A.A. and we intend to be an integral part of that conversation,” said Ms. Merola, who described herself as “heartbroken.” “As lifelong E.M.S. volunteers we are committed to the benefit of volunteer E.M.S. services on the entire East End. Those monies were donated to our organization by local residents, and they were never intended to be some slush fund for elected officials to throw parties and entertain their political friends. We have an obligation to our supporters to see that the funding is used for the purpose for which it was always intended.”

“The village does not want and never did want the money,” said Mayor Larsen. “This wasn’t about the funds; this was about providing service. We would like to see the money go to the new association, the East Hampton Village Ambulance Members, Inc.” 

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