- Associated Press - Thursday, June 4, 2015

GRAND ISLAND, Neb. (AP) - Grand Island officials won’t release to public scrutiny the city contract with a vendor hired to handle ambulance billings, despite a push from the state attorney general’s office.

The Grand Island Independent reported (http://bit.ly/1czkz0h ) it had appealed to the attorney general when the city refused the newspaper’s request to see the full contract with PST Services, which is owned by McKesson Corp., a San Francisco-based provider of health care products and services.

Assistant Nebraska Attorney General Leslie Donley said in a May 27 response to the paper’s appeal that the attorney general’s office does “not believe the entire contract may be lawfully withheld” under Nebraska’s open records laws.

Donley set Wednesday as a deadline for the city to release the contract, with trade secrets blocked out.

But City Attorney Bob Sivick sent a letter to Donley on Friday that said the attorney general opinions don’t “carry the authority of a ruling of a trial or appellate court.” So, Sivick said, the city had no intention of releasing the contract because it doesn’t want to risk being sued by PST or McKesson or damage the city’s reputation with other vendors.

It’s unclear what steps the attorney general’s office might take next, if any. Donley didn’t immediately return a call Thursday from The Associated Press. A spokeswoman for the office, Suzanne Gage, said an evaluation and a decision on any action will be made next week.

The City Council voted to hire PST without publicly disclosing the terms or cost of the contract. McKesson maintained the contract contained trade secrets that, under Nebraska’s open records laws, were exempted from being disclosed.

The city said later in a news release that the city would pay PST 4 percent of the net amount collected - about $48,000 on the $1.2 million collected in a typical year.

When asked by the newspaper in May to see the full contract with the trade secrets taken out, City Administrator Marlan Ferguson said the contract was to begin on June 1 and run for three years, but again declined to release the document.

Sivick told the newspaper in a letter on May 8 that the contract had “trade secrets … and other proprietary or commercial information which, if released, would give advantage to business competitors and serve no public purpose.”

The newspaper then appealed to the state attorney general’s office.

Publisher Don Smith said “taxpayers are entitled to know what is gained or lost” when the city employs a vendor.

___

Information from: The Grand Island Independent, http://www.theindependent.com

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