The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

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July 24, 2013

Group waiting to release records

CLINTON — The citizen group suing the city over closed session minutes related to the city’s $4.5 million EMS suit has what it wants, but isn’t ready to make the documents public.

Members of the Clinton group, the Citizens for Open Government (CFOG), revealed to a group of 20 people who gathered Tuesday for a town hall meeting that they have transcripts, recordings and tapes of six closed session meetings held from 2009 and 2010 relating to the city’s $4.5 million Emergency Medical Services settlement.

However, the group is waiting for a judge to review the records and what members have identified as possible violations of the open meetings law before releasing the documents.

“At this point we have made the decision not to make those public until the judge is assigned the case and at least gets to look at our findings,” CFOG member Ed O’Neill said. “It’s not fair to make public information on something a judge is going to make a ruling on and could go to trial.”

The group filed suit with the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa in March 2012 after a formal request for the documents relating to the city’s settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice and whistleblower Tim Schultheis was denied by City Attorney Jeff Farwell, who cited attorney-client privilege.

Schultheis, a former Clinton firefighter, had claimed that from 2006 to 2008, routine city ambulance calls were improperly billed as urgent by EMS officials. This was done, he said, to achieve a higher reimbursement rate from federal healthcare program Medicare.

The city’s attorney in the case, Michael Walker (who the city is now suing for legal malpractice), said the city could have faced up to $100 million in fines because of the EMS billing if it had not settled for $4.5 million.

According to O’Neill, former Mayor Rodger Holm received a letter from the federal government in January 2009 informing the city of the suit relating to the alleged overbilling and needed to respond.

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