MADISON — Starting the process to remove the president and vice president of the Boone County Ambulance Authority board of directors was unanimously passed by the Boone County Commission.
“The Boone County Commission voted unanimously to remove Harold Green and Joseph Gollie from the Boone County Ambulance Authority board of directors,” said Boone County Prosecuting Attorney Keith Randolph. Randolph is the county’s lawyer.
“Gollie was the vice president at the time the contract was signed,” Randolph said.
The board came under fire after it was discovered it had voted to secure a $103,000 personal loan from the agency for its director Randy Lengyel to buy into a retirement plan designed for its employees.
A few weeks ago, the board voted unanimously to rescind its June 2012 vote.
“Due to the fact that the board was in error to approve the loan for the purpose of helping the director to buy into the EMS retirement system we are rescinding that vote this evening,” said Harold Green, president of the authority’s board of directors.
Green said Boone County Ambulance Authority Director Randy Lengyel secured the $103,000 personal loan from the agency after checking with a local attorney and having a contract drawn up.
However, all board members, expect for president Green and the vice president, which was Gollie at the time, voted on approve the loan without seeing the contract or knowing any details about it.
“I want to apologize to every citizen in Boone County,” said board member George Parsons. “I feel I owe it to the county. I did not see the contract or the details and would have never voted for a loan of that amount or under those terms, if I would have known the details.”
Parsons said he believes this was the plan of the president, vice president and director.
“This contract should have been presented to the entire board,” he said. “Most of us never saw it. We didn’t realize what we were voting for and for that I apologize. If this had not come to light, I don’t think it would have ever been made public.”
Green says Lengyel told him it was not illegal.
Meanwhile, Boone Prosecuting Attorney Keith Randolph has directed Lengyel to pay back the no-interest loan in full by Sept. 30 – or face possible charges.
Randolph is also the attorney for the Boone County Commission and says there is some misinformation out there about the commission’s role in governing and operting the ambulance authority.
“West Virginia Code Chapter 7 Article 15 is very specific regarding the county creating the ambulance authority and appointing board members, but it is extremely limited in other areas,” he explained. “The code creates the authority as a separate public corporation. The commission does not approve vehicles, buy gas, or other daily operations of the authority. That is done by the authority board and its director.”
Regarding the removal of Green and Gollie, Randolph says a petition is filed in Circuit Court.
“The Chief Judge of the Circuit refers the petition to the Supreme Court,” he said. “The Supreme Court appoints a 3 judge panel who hears evidence and decides the matter. See WV Code section 6-6-7 for more detail.”
The state Ethics Commission was to rule on the issue as well.
“The Boone County Commission selects replacements to the Boone County Ambulance Authority board and the only requirement is an adult Boone County resident,” Randolph said.
There are also ongoing investigations by the state Legislature’s Commission on Special Investigations and the Boone County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office is also still investigating and in discussion with the county commission, according to Randolph.
“There will be a request made for a state audit of the ambulance authority’s records as well,” he added.
In an interview with the Gazette-Mail after news of the loan was made public, Lengyel said he would reimburse the ambulance authority immediately.
“I’m paying it back now – in full,” Lengyel told the newspaper. “Everything’s going to be taken care of. It will all be paid back, and there won’t be an issue.”
Lengyel allegedly persuaded ambulance authority board members to loan him $103,000 so he could switch from the West Virginia state employees retirement plan to more lucrative plan set up for emergency medical service workers. Under the loan’s terms – which all but two board members say they never saw – Lengyel agreed to pay off the no-interest loan in monthly installments of $350 after he retired.
Under state law, the ambulance board had no legal authority to make a personal loan – “let alone a personal loan to an employee,” according to a letter sent by the Boone Prosecuting Attorneys Office to Lengyel on July 31.
In 2012, Lengyel asked then-Delegate Josh Stowers, D-Lincoln, to introduce legislation that would allow ambulance directors across the state to bolster their retirement benefits, Stowers confirmed last week with the Charleston newspaper.
The bill gave a one-year window for directors to switch from the Public Employees Retirement System to the Emergency Medical Services Retirement System. The EMS plan comes with significantly higher monthly retirement payments. EMS plan recipients also can retire and start collecting payments 10 years earlier than state employees.
“Randy approached me about wanting to buy into the EMS retirement system,” Stowers told the Charleston Gazette-Mail. “My job was to open the system to allow someone to buy back into something that may be more beneficial as long as the state was due what it was due. How he acquired those monies, I wasn’t a part of.”
Stowers resigned from the Legislature to take a job as chief deputy to state Treasurer John Perdue in July 2013, three months before the Boone ambulance board approved the personal loan.
“Obviously, I don’t think he should have acquire the money in a way that may have been inappropriate,” Stowers said.
The West Virginia Senate and House of Delegates passed Stowers’ bill, and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed it into law.
Lengyel was the only ambulance director in West Virginia to take advantage of the new law and switch retirement plans the following year.
Many ambulance directors signed up for the EMS retirement plan when it started in 2007, but Lengyel wasn’t working at the Boone Ambulance Authority at the time. Directors weren’t allowed to buy into the system again until Stowers’ bill passed five years later.
Green said the Lengyel is in the process of getting a personal loan from a bank to pay the money back in full and then it would be deposited into the authority’s general fund.
“No levy money was used,” Green added. “This was money the authority had in its general fund from billing for services.”
Fred Pace is an editor for Civitas Media. He can be reached at 304-369-1165, ext. 1661, in Madison; at 304-752-6950, ext. 1729 in Logan; by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or @fcpace62 on Twitter.