Here’s another story about a tainted procurement of a digital trunked radio system. Marketing this technology by purchasing political influence seems to work well.
1. Fall 2013: Knoxville Police Department communication supervisor quits to join MSI’s East Tennessee’s sales staff and petitioned the country to stay with MSI
2. December 2013: MSI proposal for Knox County’s E-911 system was deemed non-responsive and was found the weakest of any submission
3. Jan 2014: MSI petitions Knox County and bidding was restarted
4. Jan 2015: Knox County’s procurement office awarded Harris Corp. the $7.4M bid recommendation. Knoxville Police Chief and Knox County Sheriff worked to thwart giving the contract to Harris
5. Feb 2015: MSI enlists former Knox Country Mayor as a consultant
6. April 2015: Knox County hires a consultant to make an independent report for $40k. Consultant determines Harris is superior
7. April 2015: Knox County chooses to ignore the independent consultant and go with MSI.
8. July 2016: After negotiating for one year Knox County approves a $8.7M MSI contract ($7.3M for system and $1.4M for a seven year maintenance contract)
Tennessee County Approves New 911 Radio Contract
Three year long process to have new digital radio system ends with contract with Motorola
HAYES HICKMAN and GERALD WITT, Knoxville News-Sentinel Published Thursday, July 21, 2016
Three years after beginning the process to obtain a new digital radio system, the Knox County E-911 Board of Directors on Tuesday unanimously approved an $8.7 million contract with Motorola Solutions.The vote ends a lengthy ordeal that stuck emergency responders with an outdated system for years longer than expected. The decision was fraught with complications, including accusations of backdoor discussions.
“I think this has been more thoroughly vetted than anything I’ve been involved with as sheriff,” Knox County Sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” Jones said.
Jones said the biggest advantage will be not the hardware itself, but having a regional system that allows direct communication among various agencies during a crisis.
“We’ll be able to turn a button and all be able to talk to each other,” the sheriff said.
It took years to get to Tuesday’s vote.In December 2013, Motorola’s proposal for Knox County’s E-911 Center radio system was deemed non-responsive for emergency agencies’ needs. An evaluation committee found Motorola’s proposal as the weakest of three submissions.
A few months before that report, former Knoxville Police Department communications supervisor Scott Tidwell joined Motorola’s East Tennessee sales staff. He petitioned the county’s E-911 officials to stay with Motorola.
After the 2013 effort from Motorola, the county’s bidding process was restarted.
In January 2015, the county’s procurement office gave Harris Corp. a $7.4 million bid recommendation. Law enforcement officials, including Jones and Knox County Commissioner Brad Anders, also a KPD lieutenant, questioned the selection process. Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch and Jones worked secretly to thwart giving the contract to Harris, as public records obtained by the News Sentinel later revealed.
Local political consultants were hired by Harris. The other bidder, Tait, hired its own. Motorola enlisted former Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale as a consultant.
Members of the E-911 board, the community and emergency responders pointed fingers. Some suggested the process was imbalanced to favor Harris. Others said law enforcement in particular wanted to stay with Motorola.A consultant was hired in April to make an independent report on the E-911 system, for almost $40,000. In November the report recommended Harris. The E-911 board ignored the consultant it hired.
Eventually the E-911 board chose to form a user’s committee to select how to proceed, shed upgrading the county’s current system and instead join a regional system that relies on Motorola equipment.
Jones especially preferred Motorola equipment. He suggested Knox County join the Tennessee Valley Regional Communications System, which is equipped with Motorola.
On Tuesday staying with Motorola became a certainty with the 10-0-1 vote. Dr. Russell Frazier, an E-911 board member and chief of the Knoxville Volunteer Emergency Rescue Squad, was absent.
“The public’s going to have a good system that’s going to keep us safe. And the user committee (process) works,” said Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett, an E-911 board member. “There’s (been) a lot of friction and because of that I think we got a better product.”Motorola critics repeatedly have referenced potential hidden costs and change orders that boost the price of a system significantly beyond the original contract. Burchett said he was confident Knox County Procurement Director Hugh Holt reviewed the contract carefully.
Holt said the $7 million in savings over the state contract came about through “aggressive negotiating” and that Motorola honored discounts on equipment purchases even though the company’s June 30 deadline to sign a contract had passed.
Motorola, like other radio providers, has state contracts offering discounts on radios, programming and system equipment.
Holt said if he bought Knox County’s new system under the state contract, the cost would have been $13,051,459, with another $3.7 million required for equipment and programming to join the regional system.Under discounts negotiated by Holt and Jay Garrison, procurement coordinator, the radio system costs will total $7.3 million. The seven-year maintenance contract, which includes system upgrades and ensures daily operation of the system, added $1.4 million to the contract, Holt said.
Holt said installation of the digital system will take 14-15 months. Each of Knox County’s five radio sites will be examined to ensure towers are capable of holding new equipment.
There are no monetary damages in the contract for missed deadlines, but Holt said no payments will be made to Motorola until installation milestones are reached. In addition, Holt structured the payment schedule to withhold money until the system is completed.
“I’m holding back 25 percent of the contract until the system is online and accepted,” he said.
Alan Bull, interim executive director of the E-911 Center, said users committee questions about Motorola meeting needs of emergency agencies have been answered.
Knox County will join the regional radio system incrementally, Bull said, noting a lot of training will be needed.
“It’s not just a matter of flipping a switch,” he said.
As Knox County radios integrate into the regional system, emergency agencies pay $42.80 annually to Chattanooga for each radio.
Chattanooga oversees operation of the regional system, governed by a five-member executive committee. Knox County has about 4,800 radios on its system.
The new digital system will replace the analog system installed in 1985 by Motorola. That system is outdated and hard to repair because of a lack of replacement parts.