PMT Ambulance is taking a swing at East Valley elected leaders in the form of a survey that claims the public is miffed over how officials handled an ambulance service contract.
PMT has already sued Mesa and other cities, claiming it was prevented from bidding on a lucrative contract to serve a vast area of the East Valley. The company says Mesa, Gilbert, Queen Creek and Apache Junction set up a bid that favored Southwest Ambulance.
Mesa's elected officials said they're caught in the middle of a bitter feud between the two companies, whose years-long battles over lucrative ambulance contracts across the Valley have led to political and legal skirmishes.
East Valley leaders swung back at PMT's survey.
"They're doing the survey because they know they can't win on their legal argument, and that's speaking both as a council member and an attorney," Mesa's Dennis Kavanaugh said.
PMT filed suit in November, claiming the bid process was not competitive and violated open meeting laws, among other counts. The company seeks to stop the communities from awarding the contract to Southwest.
PMT spokesman Jason Rose said the public was unaware of the disputed bid, and the $7,300 survey, conducted by Summit Consulting Group, was intended to raise awareness of what he called "backroom bid-rigging nonsense."
The survey's key question included telling respondents a Southwest competitor had recently won multiple contracts and improved service, then added the elected officials "took steps to prevent this company from bidding for the right to serve our community. In general, would you say that the Mayor and City Council were right to protect the contract for Southwest Ambulance, or do you think other ambulance companies should have had the right to bid on the contract as had occurred in many other Valley cities?"
The survey found 77 percent believed other companies should be able to bid.
The phone survey included 500 residents in the communities that would be served by whoever won the bid. It had a 4 percent margin of error, Rose said.
The survey also found 80 percent of residents would support a ballot initiative to require competitive bidding for emergency service contracts.
Rose said the survey was designed to see if it's worthwhile for the company to consider pursuing a ballot measure.
"If you're going to do an initiative and spend money, you want to know if the public is with you or against you," Rose said.
Longtime Valley pollster Bruce Merrill said some survey questions were leading. The question about competition is certain to get high support no matter how it's asked, said Merrill, director of the media research program at Arizona State University's Cronkite School of Journalism.
"You don't have to do a survey, in my opinion, that people think it's fair to get bids," Merrill said.
Rose addressed the potentially leading questions by offering to do another survey. PMT would split the cost with a city for a new round of questions, he said, if both sides could agree on the wording.
Southwest also took issue with the survey.
It was "a mean-spirited PR strategy to mislead citizens and turn them against our East Valley leaders," company spokeswoman Holly Walter said in a written statement.
"Bottom line: PMT was not qualified for the bid and now they are crying sour grapes," Walter said.
The poll also takes aim at Southwest, which for years had exclusive service contracts with nearly every community in Maricopa County. Upstart PMT outbid Southwest in recent years for contracts in Scottsdale, Tempe, Chandler, Paradise Valley and Guadalupe after squabbles that sometimes have led to legal battles.
PMT's latest effort to get a contract involved a first for Arizona: combining service in four communities so the ambulances could cross municipal borders and reduce response times. All involved agree the combined contract would lead to faster response times and improved public safety.
PMT did not actually bid, however, stating the four cities wrote a contract that excluded anybody but Southwest. The bid process stated bidders had to be certified in each of the four communities by the Arizona Department of Health Services, which Southwest had. PMT did not have certificates for Apache Junction or Queen Creek, which is why PMT has said it didn't submit a bid. Its lawsuit against the communities contends the bidding process was illegal.
But the communities gave plenty of warning for ambulance companies to compete, Mesa Councilman Scott Somers said.
"We let everybody know this is coming," he said. "All they needed to do was settle up with the state."