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Alleged 911 abuse and problems in Oldham Co. EMS


Threats of layoffs, slowed response times and allegations of 911 abuse.

Those are just some of the issues within Oldham County EMS. EMS workers still face the possibility of layoffs, according to county financial officer Stan Clark.

Even though the department is no longer "bleeding cash" as Clark states, the financial situation could be better. A slow to recover economy and a reduction in property tax revenue is to blame for part of the financial mess, county officials here claim. The department had to borrow more than $800,000 from the county fiscal court just to make payroll last year.

But employees claim schedule changes have led to slowed response times and a demise in morale. Now, Oldham County Judge Executive David Voegele is under fire, accused of abusing his authority after audio tapes surfaced of him calling 911 and demanding to speak to an officer or asking that a dispatcher run a license plate number for a person he believed was illegally parked.

In a lengthy -- sometimes contentious -- interview with WDRB News, Voegele defended his actions.

When asked directly if he thought it was appropriate to dial 911 in a non-emergency situation Voegele said:

"Oh, certainly. I am the chief executive officer of this county. All the employees work for me. I have the right and the responsibility to call any employee I feel has information that I need at that point," Voegele said.

When asked if that should hold true even non-emergency situations, Voegele replied: "Well, sure."

Retired EMS worker Bobbi Nelson filed an open records request that uncovered the tapes. She denies Voegele's claim that the effort was part of a smear campaign to attack Voegele for decisions he made related to EMS. (Voegele appoints the members to the ambulance taxing district board that oversees EMS, and he's appointed the previous and current directors.)

Oldham EMS employees -- some who asked not to be identified out of fear of reprisal -- say Voegele's actions tie up a vital emergency resource in a time when Oldham County EMS is struggling.

In essence: they claim it sends the wrong message.

Below are the transcripts from two of the 911 calls Voegele made to the emergency dispatch center in 2011:

Call #1

Dispatcher: "911."

Voegele: "This is David Voegele calling."

Dispatcher: "Can you call back on 222-0111."

Voegele: "What's that?"

Dispatcher: "Call back on 222-0111."

Voegele: "Who is this?"

Dispatcher: "This is dispatcher Adams."

Voegele: "Do you know who I am?"

Dispatcher: "Yes I do, but this is a 911 line sir."

Voegele: "I know it but you could take my call. I don't think you should be telling me to call back on any number."

Dispatcher: "That's... OK..."

Voegele: "I want you to raise Lt. Wakefield have him call me in my office."

Dispatcher: "And your office number?"

Voegele: Hangs up.

Dispatcher: "Your office number?"


Dispatcher: Oldham County 911 what is your emergency?

Voegele: "No emergency this is Judge Voegele calling. I'd like you to check a license number for me?

Dispatcher: "OK. Could you please hold?"

Voegele: "OK."

(delay 1:30 minute)

Dispatcher: "Thank You."

Dispatcher: "OK, they're Kentucky?"

Voegele: "Yes. uh-huh."

Dispatcher: "OK and what is the number?"

The dispatcher then provided Voegele with the license plate number and the name of the owners. WDRB News chose to redact that portion of the call.

Nelson, who retired from the department in December of 2011, claims the calls are abuse of power.

"And so the purpose of filing those open records requests was so we can say he's overstepping the bounds of his authority," said Nelson. "If they are 'his' employees -- treating your employee like that is degrading. If you want happy employees, you don't treat them like dirt."

Voegele denies that his calls to 911 were improper.

During in the interview with WDRB's Bennett Haeberle, Voegele was later asked directly to respond to Nelson's claims.

Haeberle: "Is this abuse of the system?"

Voegel: "In what way?"

Haeberle: "Calling 911?

Voegel: "No."

Haeberle: "You're not abusing your power?"

Voegel: "In what way? These people all work for me. I am the person responsible who operates and checks on this system. If I can't call and understand how they answer the phone who can?

According to attorney David Mejia, the answer is no one. At least he says no one should. And even though Kentucky's law is unclear on 911 misuse.

Mejia says:

"(He's) clearly abusing the authority to me. And whether or not technically it's a violation of the law, it's terrible judgment and abuse of position by anyone."

(It should be noted the some LINK agreements allow county judge executives to access local plate numbers, according to Kentucky State Police. But that doesn't address the issue of calling 911, Mejia added.)

North Oldham Interim Fire Chief David Stotlz says he's concerned about the future of EMS. He doesn't want to lose the service to a private agency.

Voegele says he's never made public the issue of privatization but says the EMS department will continue without a tax hike.

"There are some people that are upset I understand that but we don't have a choice but to fix this organization. 49:15 They're looking for anything they can drum up to try to make people turn against me,."

Voegele says he called 9-1-1 only four times in the past 13 months. And that the call center has nine available lines -- asserting that his call would've been picked up anyway.

Nelson disagrees.

"Say there was an accident and you have people on cell phones... if the judge is on the line trying to raise Lt. Wakefield, you've tied up an emergency line and it's going to ring busy," said Nelson.

But it's not just the calls.

Many EMS employees question financial decisions that have been made, including the board's decision to spend $175,000 in cash on a new substation, $130,000 on a new ambulance and thousands more spent on refitting two other ambulances.

Board finance chair Stan Clark says financing those items would've been costly -- adding that ambulance upgrades actually saved money on maintenance costs.

"We can't keep losing money. There is no other option other than to fix the problem," Voegele says.

But the uncertainty has some employees on edge.

"They need to let the employees have some say as to what is going on," said Nelson.

Benefits will likely be cut and there is still the possibility of staff reductions leaving these first responders to cover 187 square miles each day without knowing where the future of their department is headed.