A state audit calls for stricter policies and procedures and a “change in culture” at the ambulance company that services Oklahoma City, Tulsa and surrounding areas.
More oversight by the Board of Trustees for Emergency Medical Services Authority may have prevented thousands of dollars in inappropriate spending by its chief executive officer, Stephen Williamson, according to the report.
Williamson's decisions regarding EMSA's service contracts, some made without board knowledge, also may present the appearance of a conflict of interest in violation of the authority's code of conduct, according to the report.
EMSA, which is supported by a monthly charge on subscribers' utility bills, is a public trust authority of Oklahoma City and Tulsa and is a political subdivision of the state.
The authority's board — which oversees ambulance services for more than a million Oklahomans — requested the audit after questionable expenditures by Williamson and other authority employees were exposed by the media in 2011.
Williamson was reimbursed for more than $400,000 in expenses between January 2009 and June 2012, more than half of which had no board oversight, according to the report.
The purchases, many of which were not supported with invoices, included a $669 room service bill, a $415 spa bill and nearly $800 in satellite radio subscriptions, and they comprised 50 percent of reimbursements to all 37 EMSA employees at the time.
Other authority expenses outlined in the report included $40,000 in rent paid for an apartment in Oklahoma City, a $4,300 anniversary party in October 2009 — including for catering services and expensive Mont Blanc pens — and more than $35,000 in floral arrangements for office beautification and consolation gifts.
Proper policies are
needed, auditor says
No illegal spending was uncovered, but state Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones said the authority's board stood by while improper spending took place.
“Policies in support of the authority's mission must be implemented and consistently followed to ensure effective oversight and accountability,” Jones said.
“Without proper policies involving purchasing, expense reimbursement, and conflict-of-interest disclosure, the board has unintentionally fostered a culture of acquiescence in which officers and employees are permitted to establish inappropriate patterns of expenditure behavior and fail to disclose potential conflicts of interest, unbeknown to members of the board.”
Conflicts of interest outlined in the report included the employment of Williamson's daughter by the firm EMSA uses for bill collections.
Also mentioned was that some of Williamson's travel costs as president of American Ambulance Association were paid by Paramedics Plus, a company EMSA uses to obtain its paramedics.
Auditors found billing and collection errors by the authority were not as extensive as some critics had complained, but they found the board was lacking in compliance with practices and procedures generally considered acceptable for a public body, including a lack of financial oversight and poor attendance by board trustees.
Board to review audit recommendations
Williamson declined to comment to The Oklahoman on Tuesday, but EMSA board Chairwoman Lillian Perryman said in a news release that the audit was requested because the organization is working to improve its practices and procedures.
“We requested it because we wanted specific areas evaluated by a third party and look forward to seeing their recommendations,” Perryman said.
“The board and EMSA management must review the report and recommendations made by the state auditor in detail and make decisions based on what is best for the citizens of the communities served by EMSA. Any recommendations will be evaluated and acted upon rapidly in the next few months, as appropriate.”
Perryman said the board will discuss the audit in length at a meeting scheduled for Wednesday.