The Escambia County Commission voted 3-1 Thursday to authorize its attorney to use whatever means necessary to compel Clerk of Court Pam Childers' office to write a $6,960 check to cover fines and fees former Escambia County paramedic Matt Selover was ordered to pay to close a Florida Department of Health investigation.
In response Childers said, absent a court order, "my decision is not to pay."
And so continues a squabble that originated in October when the board voted to cover costs incurred by Selover under terms of agreement reached to settle a complaint filed against him by the county's former medical director over alleged mishandling of patients during EMS calls.
'A lot of red flags':Escambia County and Clerk of Court at odds over paramedic fines
In her complaint, filed in May of 2019, Dr. Rayme Edler detailed five separate incidents from July 2018 to March 2019 during which she alleged Selover violated Florida law. Two of the incidents resulted in the patient dying, and Edler placed the culpability on Selover's actions.
Under terms of the agreement reached with the Department of Health, Selover would pay the $6,960 fine while neither admitting nor denying allegations made against him. He was allowed to keep his paramedic's license.
If County Attorney Alison Rogers succeeds in her task, the money to reimburse Selover the amount he was fined will come from the discretionary fund account of Commissioner Jeff Bergosh.
Bergosh has championed Selover's cause since 2020 when he came to the commissioner as a paramedic to complain that the county administration and Edler were retaliating against him for filing a workplace harassment complaint against Edler.
Selover filed a harassment complaint with the county in May of 2019. He later filed a federal lawsuit alleging the county violated his 14th Amendment rights and retaliated against him when he was placed on desk duty. It also accused the county of failing to follow its own policies by not investigating the harassment complaint.
More:Escambia County to pay for defense of paramedic in DOH complaint after settling $200,000 lawsuit
He eventually reached a settlement in that case whereby he was paid $200,000. On Thursday, Bergosh said Selover agreeing to go along with settling the lawsuit had saved the county tens of thousands of dollars.
In arguing in support of his motion to compel Childers to act, Bergosh said that the Clerk of Court doesn't have the right to contest a lawfully reached board of commissioners' decision.
"We put this forward, it's lawful and it needs to be paid," he said. "This government will come to a grinding halt if we don't stay in our lanes and do our jobs ... "Your vote today is about protecting your power."
With Commissioner Lumon May absent, board member Mike Kohler cast the lone vote in opposition to Bergosh's motion to have the county attorney do what she could to force Childers' hand.
As a licensed nurse, Kohler said, he had reviewed both a Department of Health and the state Surgeon General's analysis of the Selover case and come to the conclusion the County Commission, ahead of his being sworn in, had overstepped its bounds by agreeing to pay the fines.
More:Bergosh: Embattled EMS employee's case shows need for changes to county harassment policy
"I want to protect the power of the board, I agree with that. But I respectfully believe that the board made a very bad decision ... "This is such a breach, such an overreach," he said. "There is a process, and if I was to support this I would be tarred and feathered by the medical community."
Childers likens paying Selover's fines to that of paying a traffic ticket for a county employee who is cited for speeding while driving on a work assignment. She said her office has asked the county attorney to provide evidence that the payment is legal and provide a required primary public purpose but has not received an answer with which it is satisfied.
"The Clerk is the watchdog of all county funds and serves as a check and balance on each expenditure of taxpayer dollars. A primary public purpose must be served when the county government spends the public's money," she said in an emailed statement. "Commissioner Bergosh's discretionary funds are still the people's money."
Payment of a fine for a private citizen does not serve a public purpose, Childers said in her statement. She said she fears paying it for Selover would set a dangerous precedent.
"It's OK that the government stops and thinks about the money that it is spending. The Board does not have unchecked power to spend the taxpayers hard earned money," Childers said in her statement.
This article originally appeared on Pensacola News Journal: Escambia Commissioners seek to force Childers to pay paramedic's fine
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