Brian Witzeman, the son of Rural/Metro Corp.’s founder, announced his resignation from the emergency services firm Friday in a letter blasting company officials over the decisions to withdraw from Scottsdale and switch out top executives.
A district manager with Rural/Metro subsidiary Southwest Ambulance, Witzeman said he officially left the company about two weeks ago. He had been working to establish the ambulance company’s response system in Scottsdale.
The decision to leave Rural/Metro was made when the company announced in November 2003 that it was pulling out of Scottsdale, he said Friday in a phone interview.
The company argued the city had grown too large to serve effectively and still make a profit.
"The principles that governed the actions and decisions of the company for so, so many years are now purposefully gone," Witzeman wrote. His letter was addressed to Scottsdale Mayor Mary Manross and was sent to the state’s top elected officials and the media.
Rural/Metro did not consult company founder Lou Witzeman before deciding to leave Scottsdale, a move that rankled their family, Brian Witzeman said.
The letter took Rural/ Metro officials by surprise on Friday. Some were unaware Brian Witzeman had resigned.
"We share a tremendous respect for Lou Witzeman and the business principles that he stood for," said Liz Merritt, a Rural/Metro spokeswoman, at a news conference reading from a prepared statement. The company has not changed its executives in recent years, she added.
Merritt declined to answer any questions concerning the letter.
In the letter, Brian Witzeman asked the company to stop calling itself Rural/Metro, alleging it is no longer the company his father, who died Sept. 2, once ran.
With his resignation, no Witzeman family members are employed by Rural/Metro.
Lou Witzeman started the company 53 years ago with one truck after seeing a neighbor’s home burn down because there was no one to respond in the Scottsdale desert. Rural/Metro expanded dramatically, providing fire protection and ambulance services to sparsely populated areas across the nation while continuing to be headquartered in Scottsdale.
In 2003, the union representing Rural/Metro’s firefighters pushed an initiative that would have forced the company from its city of origin.
Scottsdale voters overwhelmingly rejected it. However, six months after the bitterly contested election, Rural/Metro announced it would leave the city. The city built a public fire department that took over Scottsdale’s fire protection July 1.
Brian Witzeman’s letter also complained that Rural/ Metro moved its headquarters to the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, just outside the city’s border. The move took the corporate headquarters "from the very community that stuck with Rural/Metro through thick and thin," he wrote.
Brian Witzeman said his letter was not meant to affect the company’s standing in Scottsdale as Southwest competes for the city’s ambulance contract.
The letter was an attempt to make clear his views on the company, not those of his father, he said.
"I stayed with Rural/Metro because he was still alive and he was still on the board, but you could see where it was going for a long time," he said.