By Brandi Makuski
Stevens Point Police and Fire Commissioners are considering taking some action against Portage Co. Emergency Management Director Joe Brandt for misconduct.
Brandt, who oversees the county’s EMS system, has been a topic of discussion for the commissioners over the past several months, after officials from the Stevens Point Fire Dept. say Brandt began making false statements about the department during public safety meetings at the county level, and on at least one occasion lied to city staff.
According to city records, that lie came in the form of a May 15 text message Brandt sent to an unidentified city employee, claiming the PFC had fired Portage Co. Medical Director Sarah Brandt — who is also Joe Brandt’s wife.
The message read, “I don’t know if you knew, but SPFD fired Sarah as Medical Director today.”
City Attorney Andrew Beveridge said Dr. Sarah Brandt is an employee of Ascension (formerly Ministry Medical) and the city did not have the authority to fire her; nor did it.
“That didn’t happen,” Beveridge said at Tuesday’s meeting. “We don’t have the authority to do that, by the way…to my knowledge, she still carries on as the medical director today.”
Tension between the emergency management dept. and the SPFD goes back for several months, when a decision to utilize a one-paramedic/one-EMT system for a new ambulance service in Plover was approved by both the EM department and the EMS system’s medical director. Fire Chief Bob Finn and others at SPFD have decried that move, saying the system is “contrary” to the Gold Standard of a two-paramedic system employed by their department, and citing concern for service quality.
Finn believes Joe Brandt has been intentionally attempting to discredit the Stevens Point Fire Department via a series of comments Brandt made publicly during county meetings stemming back as far as January.
In one instance, Joe Brandt referenced a photo of a Portage Co. ambulance driving through high water following the June 12 storm at the Michigan Ave. underpass. Finn said Brandt inaccurately connected that single photo to a repair request later made for another ambulance, which Finn said was “clearly a different ambulance”, also saying no damage was sustained to the vehicle Brandt publicly identified.
During a May 18 meeting of the EMS Oversight Committee, Brandt also referenced what he called “three complaints” against SPFD in his monthly report, but did not elaborate on what those complaints were during the public meeting.
Beveridge said when the city requested copies of those complaints so it could investigate, the county refused to release them.
“It wasn’t until I sent a letter to corporation counsel in July essentially saying, ‘We’re entitled to these under the Open Records Law’, that we finally were given them [sic],” Beveridge said.
Only when the city received copies of those documents was it discovered the complaints were actually patient satisfaction surveys, Beveridge added.
“One of them had low marks with no explanation,” he said. “One was a complaint about the cost of services. And, one [had] some low marks and also some comments about the staff’s attitude towards the situation.”
According to PFC President Gary Wescott, Finn has spent “more than 50 hours” investigating Brandt’s public claims.
“There is quite a bit of discussion about filing a formal complaint, but that’s a very serious act,” Wescott said, adding he wanted other measures to be first considered by the commission.
Beveridge said in legal parlance, “complaint” holds a stronger meaning than in everyday life.
“In the legal field, we think of it as a document that initiates some process,” he said, adding commissioners would likely need to identify a county policy, rather than a city policy, Brandt had violated before moving forward with a formal complaint process.
Beveridge then pointed to a July 20 EMS Oversight Committee meeting where Brandt publicly supported county officials officially adopting a relationship with Ascension, and to require all entities under the current EMS contract to utilize the hospital’s medical director, “regardless of who it is.”
That endorsement, Beveridge said, could be construed as an official conflict of interest under the county’s policy, if the commission agreed to submit a formal complaint.
Instead, the commission agreed take an initial step of sending a letter to County Executive Patty Drier and County Board Chairman Phil Idsvoog, formally outlining their concerns and asking for an in-person meeting.
Wescott said filing a formal complaint could be a tool the commission uses if the meeting did not yield positive results.
Full audio here: