Douglas County leaders to discuss message to city of Lawrence regarding Fire Medical partnership

photo by: Mackenzie Clark/Journal-World File Photo

In this Journal-World file photo from March 6, 2019, Douglas County Commissioners Nancy Thellman, Michelle Derusseau and Patrick Kelly listen to Interim County Administrator Sarah Plinsky, not pictured, speak during the commission's weekly meeting at the county courthouse.

Douglas County commissioners on Wednesday will discuss a message they want to send to the city of Lawrence regarding the Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical department.

After Lawrence City Manager Tom Markus indicated that he did not intend to include a county representative in the hiring process for the next chief of that department, commissioners at their March 6 meeting directed Interim County Administrator Sarah Plinsky to draft a formal letter to the city.

Plinsky has been working for months on negotiations with city staff regarding the interlocal agreement that lays out the funding structure for LDCFM. She told commissioners last week that she recalled briefly discussing in those meetings that “the fire chief search wasn’t going to happen immediately,” and the hope had originally been to create a plan for the new chief to then implement.

“But I don’t know that we ever codified that, put it in writing,” Plinsky said. “So I don’t necessarily think it’s problematic that the city has (decided to start the hiring process), but it does speak to the notion of what is the future of our partnership.”

Markus, in the video recording from the City Commission’s March 5 meeting, said the agreement makes it clear that LDCFM is a city department, and appointing its leader was under his authority.

Commission Chair Michelle Derusseau said last week that she wasn’t questioning the city manager’s authority, but “If (the new LDCFM chief) is going to be available to us, they can answer our concerns or issues, or at least have us available to share what we see as challenges to serving such a large, large area.”

“There’s one person that’s going to be making this decision, and it’s a person with very limited knowledge who hasn’t even lived here probably for three, four years,” Derusseau said, referring to Markus. “So to me, it’s a safety concern.”

In addition to the Lawrence-based fire and medical services, the county also has several township fire departments in its rural areas — “so for emergency medical services in Douglas County, there are a number of stakeholders involved in this process,” Plinsky said.

Commissioner Nancy Thellman said she was also concerned about the potential impact on the county’s budget as negotiations move forward.

“This is not a County Commission being petulant or trying to be in any way difficult, but I think it’s incumbent on us to really think hard about going forward with these negotiations in light of all the variables that we now know about,” Thellman said during the last meeting.

The commission will meet at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Douglas County Courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St. Complete agenda materials are available at

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