The Austin Chronicle

Levy and EMS Union in Email Throwdown

By Jordan Smith, March 8, 2013, News

In a Feb. 25 letter to Mike Levy, the former publisher of Texas Monthly who serves as vice chair of the city's Public Safety Commission, Tony Marquardt, president of the Austin-Travis County EMS Employee Association, told Levy that it was time for him to resign. Levy, he wrote, has "held up vital conversations" about EMS by "marginalizing" important agency issues, and it is "apparent" that Levy is on a "course to divide our membership and dismantle ATCEMS" for his own "personal agenda."

The current dispute – conducted mostly via emails that (thanks to Levy's robust contacts list and itchy mouse finger) have made it to the inboxes of scores of City Hall watchers – was prompted by Levy's forwarding of a letter written by Austin Firefighters Association President Bob Nicks inviting the EMS association into discussions of a possible consolidation of the EMS and AFD. The letter was just a formality, says Marquardt, required by the rules that govern AFL-CIO affiliates. As Mar­quardt wrote to Council on Feb. 22, the talks are part of building a "viable contingency plan" should city officials decide to seriously consider a merger of the two public safety agencies – a plan that could, in part, save the city money.

Indeed, the original Levy email on its face is straightforward; it simply draws attention to the Nicks letter and points out that since EMS now has civil service protection, the talks would allow the two employee groups to use the discussions to "focus on mutual labor issues normally associated when any private or public sector organizations ... are combined." Nonetheless, the forward touched off a volley of hostile email exchanges, where­in Marquardt accused Levy of trying to undermine the very EMS agency that he pushed the city to create in the mid-Seventies.

It wasn't necessarily the content of Levy's email that ticked off Marquardt and the associ­ation's board members, who have also signed on to a call for Levy to resign. Rather, that email was a tipping point for frustrations that have been building between the EMS union and Levy. Levy has for too long behaved as an expert on all things EMS, Mar­quardt says, making it difficult for the union rep and others from EMS to be heard on issues of critical importance to the union, including staffing.

In a follow-up email to members on Feb. 26, Marquardt wrote that in the past, Levy "was useful to us," but now is using his position to "push for those advocating for ATCEMS demise in the county," which has helped county management "sell" the idea of replacing paramedics with firefighters trained in advanced life support at each of the county's emergency service districts. Marquardt said he had complained to the city's Integrity Office about Levy using his city email account to send group emails about EMS issues – emails that Marquardt says he can't effectively counter because he can't use his city email account for association business.

Levy says Marquardt's explanations for the current spat make little sense, noting there is nothing to prevent Marquardt or anyone from the EMS union from talking to PSC members. Moreover, Levy says he strongly supports the EMS interlocal agreement between the city and county, which he says makes for a more flexible and robust department. He added he has been most critical of EMS management, but has remained a strong advocate for the paramedics. "Everything I do is for the paramedics and the patients," Levy says. "He's just pissed off that [the PSC isn't] doing everything that the association wants us to do. We report to the Council, and our responsibility is to the community."

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