Troubleshooters: Floyd, Clark ambulance contractor gave campaign money to politicians who approved contract

Neither county prevents contractors from donating to politicians.
Updated: May. 18, 2023 at 6:00 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - New Chapel EMS provides 911 ambulance service to both Clark and Floyd Counties.

The company is run by Jamey Noel, former Sheriff of Clark County.

He’s also the head of the Clark County Republican Party and the 9th District GOP in Southern Indiana.

Campaign finance records show his family has donated thousands to politicians with oversight of New Chapel’s contracts.

Taxpayers pay New Chapel EMS hundreds of thousands of dollars to provide ambulance service and fire protection.

New Chapel also bills for ambulance runs, earning millions more.

The contracts are valuable, raising questions: Are elected leaders voting on them being influenced by campaign donations from the contractor?

When the call goes out for an ambulance in Clark and Floyd Counties, New Chapel EMS, a private company responds.

New Chapel EMS has been contracted with both counties for several years now.

WAVE’s investigation Wednesday found New Chapel’s response times in Floyd County are not meeting the county’s expectations.

“We’re not getting the quality of service that we’re supposed to be getting,” former EMS Advisory Board Member Gary Kleeman said.

“We’re paying for two and a half ambulances, but we’re not sure where they’re stationed or where they’re coming from,” Floyd County Commissioner John Schellenberger said.

Critics believe the company keeps getting contracts because the man behind New Chapel, Chief and CEO Jamey Noel, has the political influence to win them.

“Absolutely, I think it’s a conflict,” Floyd County Council President Denise Konkle said.

She said Noel’s dual role as a county contractor and leader in Republican politics gives him an unfair advantage.

“I think they should recuse themselves from voting for a vendor who they’ve received a donation from, I don’t think they should vote,” Konkle said.

Noel is the former Sheriff of Clark County and currently leads the Republican Party at both the county and district level.

WAVE’s investigation of county campaign finance records found Noel or his family members donated hundreds, and sometimes thousands of dollars over the years to Republican politicians with oversight of the ambulance contracts in both counties. Noel denies using campaign contributions as leverage.

“Most of the stuff when it comes to politics, you know I am a Republican. I’m involved in Republican leadership and support Republican candidates,” New Chapel CEO Jamey Noel said. “It’s just that simple.”

Last fall, Floyd County leaders unhappy with New Chapel’s performance decided to get bids from different ambulance companies. The WAVE Troubleshooters found some of the loudest voices opposing change received campaign donations from Noel or his family.

“That is not how you do business with your vendors and with these major projects coming, you two have just sent a message that we don’t care,” unsuccessful candidate Charlie Moon said.

“The rate we’re getting from our current provider is most assuredly going to go up because they’ve saved us money for a long time,” Floyd County Council member Danny Short said.

Short ($500), Moon ($500), and former Council Member Adam Roberts ($2,000) all received campaign contributions from the Noels.

Both Roberts and Short also voted against refurbishing two ambulances for the Lafayette and Greenville fire departments in March 2022. Council members raised concerns about having enough money for New Chapel’s contract.

“I know there’s negotiation of contracts with New Chapel that we’re waiting for,” Councilmember Connie Moon said.

“The cost to refurbish these are pretty expensive,” Councilmember Adam Roberts said.

Roberts did not return WAVE’s phone calls. He lost his primary to Jim Freiberger who campaigned on improving ambulance service.

Following his win, Freiberger said the former Floyd County Sheriff asked to arrange a private meeting.

“I’d like to bring a friend, who’s that, Jamey Noel, at that point I’d already been familiar and I said I haven’t heard positive things for Jamey Noel, I’d really prefer not to meet with him,” recalled Freiberger.

Floyd County’s ethics code bars elected officials from accepting gifts over $50 from consultants. However, it does not restrict campaign contributions.

“I don’t have a problem with them making a decision, so long as it’s clear to me that I can see all the relevant information,” University of Southern Indiana Professor Nick LaRowe said.

He’s not bothered by county leaders taking campaign contributions from a contractor as long as they’re reported. But he said what is troubling is the appearance of what’s known as pay to play.

That’s when companies seeking government contracts use political donations to get an edge.

“If you’re awarding a contract that’s much more expensive than the other bidders, or doesn’t have a good history, you would wonder why that business was picked and the other businesses weren’t,” LaRowe said.

Which brings the story to Clark County. In early April, the county signed a three-year contract extension with New Chapel EMS.

“It really took the pressure off of negotiations moving forward, and with inflation, we were tickled to death with the price,” Commission President Bryan Glover said.

But the WAVE Troubleshooters found the extension comes with two fewer ambulances and costs $250,000 more than a competitors bid sent in a year ago.

Glover said he was following a subcommittee recommendation to stick with New Chapel even with the higher price.

“We were getting better coverage for a little bit more money,” Glover said.

Our investigation found the Noels donated to current Clark County Commissioner Connie Sellers ($200) and Council Members Steve Doherty ($400), Kevin Vissing ($500), John Miller ($500), and former Councilmember Brittney Ferree ($500). Sellers voted for the original ambulance contract in October 2020.

Doherty and Vissing voted to fund it later that month.

When the county extended the contract in April last year, Doherty, Vissing, Miller, and Ferree approved the money to pay for a $262,000 raise.

“How do you separate then what’s good for you politically and what’s good for your company financially,” WAVE Troubleshooter Mark Stevens asked.

“It’s never what’s good for my company financially,” Noel said. “It’s what’s best for the community. I don’t involve politics when it comes to public safety. I never have and never will.”

Indiana only bans campaign contributions from contractors trying to work with the state lottery. Clark County does no such thing, only requiring commissioners and council members to disclose contracts with direct relatives.

WAVE’s investigation also uncovered a lawsuit that was previously sealed between Noel and former Councilmember Ferree over the paternity of a child they had together.

Court filings show the two settled the case after working out parenting time and child support. The settlement of the case occurred in 2020, two years before Ferree voted to fund the increased New Chapel EMS contract price in 2022.

Ferree did not return WAVE’s call. Noel’s attorney blocked WAVE’s questions about the settlement during our interview, but Noel said he doesn’t talk to county council members.

“I deal with the county commissioners as far as contracts. I don’t deal directly with either Clark or Floyd County Council,” Noel said.

Clark County can amend its contract with New Chapel EMS at any time. Floyd County’s contract automatically renews at the end of the month.

New Chapel’s most recent nonprofit tax return shows Noel paid himself $62,675 a year, averaging 20 hours a week of work.

A separate company he helped create had its tax exempt status revoked in 2010 after no one filed required tax returns for three years.