City, County Wrangle over Contract Details of First Responder Radio System

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San Antonio Firefighters walk through leaking hydrant water during the emergency.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

San Antonio Firefighters walk through water leaking from a hydrant while on a call downtown.

The City of San Antonio and Bexar County, two of the three negotiating parties in a proposed $106.6 million deal for first responder radio systems, do not agree on how – or even if – the contract will be finalized. Bexar County Commissioners say they have yet to give final approval to fund their portion of the contract, while City officials say the County already did.

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff described the negotiations as "terrible."

The contract is more than two years in the making, and County officials say the negotiation process was difficult because the City insisted on having more administrative control over the new devices than the County. The two-way radio system is used by firefighters, police officers, and CPS Energy linesmen.

"Things finally worked out okay, but it was a long, tortuous process," Nelson Wolff told the Rivard Report.

City Council is expected to vote on the contract next Thursday. No date has been set for the Commissioners' vote.

Original drafts of the agreement required that the county go through a City committee in order to access the vendor in the event of any service or technical issues, he said.

That access was granted in the final contract, but County officials are still concerned about the price.

Bexar County Commissioners unanimously voted on Jan. 11 to join an interlocal agreement with the City of San Antonio and CPS Energy that divides ownership of the public safety radio system among the three entities. For more than 15 years, the City and County operated their first responder radio systems under a joint contract with the San Antonio-based company Dailey-Wells. That system is nearing the end of its useful life and needs to be replaced with newer technologies.

But Bexar County Commissioner Kevin Wolff (Pct. 3) said he and some other commissioners are still unhappy with the terms laid out in the three-way agreement.

The interlocal agreement "in my mind is certainly an agreement in principle, assuming the numbers come out correctly," Kevin Wolff said. "If they don't, then I don't see us going forward with it."

At a meeting Wednesday night, City staff recommended that Council approve another contract with Dailey-Wells, which uses equipment manufactured by the Harris Corporation. On a scoring matrix used to assess bids for the contract, Dailey-Wells scored just 4.93 more points than Central Electric, which uses Motorola equipment. Firefighters prefer the Motorola handsets, but City officials say those may be used on the Harris system.

That agreement divides the cost of the project among the three participating parties: Bexar County and CPS Energy would each pay 22 percent, and the City of San Antonio would pay the remaining 56 percent. Bexar County Manager David Smith told the Rivard Report that County staff is reviewing the actual contract documents to assure the County's capital cost is around $17 million.

Kevin Wolff said much of the issue the County had with the City's proposed renewal came down to issues of control.

"For whatever reason, the City this time has decided they want to change that [agreement] to where it leaves us with very diminished powers in regards to the management of whatever vendor and contract [is approved]," Kevin Wolff said. "For instance, if we have a problem, we're not allowed to contact the vendor directly, we have to submit our problem to a committee of City staff, who will determine whether or not our problem should be addressed with the vendor."

Jeff Coyle, government and public affairs director for the City of San Antonio, said it's unclear why Wolff was questioning an interlocal agreement that commissioners already unanimously approved.

"Our expectation is that [the] whole interlocal agreement, which lays out exactly how much it costs, and who's paying what ... was carefully negotiated over a long period of time and then voted on and approved," Coyle said.

Nelson Wolff told the Rivard Report on Wednesday night that he did not know the total amount the County would be expected to pay. Another vote will determine whether the County agrees to fund it he said.

Coyle did not say how that vote could affect implementation of the agreement, if approved by the City Council on Feb. 15.

Experience is one of the categories that gave Dailey-Wells and Harris Corporation an advantage over Central Electric and Motorola in the City's scoring matrix. But firefighters overwhelmingly preferred Motorola handsets to the Harris counterpart, Erik Walsh, deputy city manager for the City of San Antonio, told City Council on Wednesday.

"It's important from the Fire Department's perspective because they're using those radios with gloved hands," Walsh said.

The contract allows for the Fire Department to purchase any handset they want, Walsh said, and that the Harris Corporation is creating a new handset in 2019 that could have similar or better features than Motorola's.

Lee Stanphill, former communications and technical services lieutenant with the San Antonio Fire Department, told the Rivard Report that it's a "mistake" not to use Motorola products. He's also skeptical that Harris Corporation's system will accommodate all of the Motorola device's features.

"The Motorola engineers will tell you that there are numerous features that will not, such as the personnel accountability suite of software, GPS location," Stanphill said. "This is the stuff they're going to have to use in burning buildings and the worst conditions imaginable for the next 15 years."

Nelson Wolff said the County considered using a Motorola system with the Texas Department of Transportation Services, but that partnering with the City is cheaper.

It would cost about $75 million for the County to develop its own system, Walsh said, citing information presented to commissioners during a Jan. 11 work session.

Still, Kevin Wolff said there is an opportunity for the County to go out on its own, and it would not have a problem paying for the system if it came to that.

During Wednesday's Council meeting, however, City Attorney Andy Segovia said the County is locked into the deal.

Throughout the contract renewal process, Kevin Wolff said there was a disconnect between the City and County communications.

"This is not good operations between the County and the City," he said.

6 thoughts on “City, County Wrangle over Contract Details of First Responder Radio System

  1. City staff, I hope you read this and re-evaluate your position after you talk to the rank & file first responder who has to use these systems everyday. When you are told by the current provider that Motorola radios will “ work” on their infrastructure, that is not the complete truth. It’s like trying to put a Ford body on a GM engine and frame. It may run, but it won’t work like a Chevy. I oversaw the design, development, build, installation, and operation of a trunked Motorola regional radio system for over ten years for counties just west and along the Texas/ Mexico border. This development and oversight was over about a 12 year period before my retirement. I have no dog in this fight. But I do have first hand experience with both companies, and their capability to deliver what they say they will deliver, and how they operate. Our collective, unanimous decision from our 27 member board of directors at the time, comprised of county judges, mayors, and others was a Motorola solution. We wanted the best system whose components, and radios out in the field could work in any type of weather, or scene condition, and had the technical support and robustness for the dispatcher, first responders, and technical capability for long term growth, and footprint. Motorola has the technical footprint which surrounds Bexar County with other like systems, as well as DPS, and others. Were they expensive, yes, but at the end of the day, what piece of equipment do you want in the hand of that fire fighter, sheriff deputy, city police officer, EMS, or other responder that you don’t have to second guess, or wonder “ will my radio be able to talk to that other device “ coming in for mutual aid to support my responsders as is needed during Hurricane evacuations, floods, and other events. This is about saving lives, not so much about saving dollars and not having your responders second guess your decision. Was it based on dollars or lives. There is a balance between the two. It always comes down to the question when a life or lives are lost after the fact….” what is the price tag for one life” when the equipment doesn’t perform as promised and the finger pointing begins.

    • Completely agree. Every time one of my 2 way customers, especially public safety, say, I’ll take that one it’s cheaper. I cringe. I can’t help but think how I would feel if one of my family or friends lives were hanging in the balance and I had sold them an inferior product, or even a good product that just doesn’t fully work on their system. I guarantee the first lawsuit will by far out way the differences in the initial cost of the system. I know Harris is telling everyone that the Motorola radios will work on their system and that is true, but that is like telling someone their cell phone will work on a different system, but oh by the way, you won’t be able to text, find directions, get on the web, or get your emails or calendar. Yes you will be able to push the button and talk, but there are so many other features that simply are not compatible. So yes you can get steak at McDonalds, its just ground up and fried and the the baked potato is too.

  2. I attended the City Council B session when this was proposal was being introduced last week.

    My question are:

    1. Where are the proposed towers going?
    – there are over 27 of them and was hoping they would not be near schools, hospitals, or residence because of possible RF radiation. Below link from american cancer society, explains more:

    Was a health assessment done during the 2 year independent study and consideration?

    2. The investment cost for Dailey Wells and Central Electric were about the same with Dailey Wells slightly cheaper. They had a higher capital cost then Central Electric with Dailey planed on building 27 towers and Central Electric planed building 28. When Dailey was selected as the possible award of the contract it was then adjusted to include more towers, simple math suggests that if central electric capital cost were cheaper than dailey wells then they would possibly then be cheaper than dailey wells in the new total bid of $108M contract.

    So the question is, did Central Electric have a chance to give their adjusted bid with the extra towers?

    Also it was noted that Dailey Wells would give a discount (included in the total price of bid) to use Harris Radios, but the fire and police department preferred Motorola from Central Electric. Which though Dailey would not charge us for the radios we would lose the discount

    So was the loss of the discount from possible not using Harris radios with the Dailey bid compared to the saving of the discount using Central Electric and their Motorola radios that the departments preferred?

    3 – Central Electric promised to hire additional employees and was that considered as an positive econmic impact on San Antonio? Dailey Wells said they wouldn’t hire anyone new.

    4 – Finally what I gather in session B is Dailey Well was selected:

    A. Because it was slightly cheaper, not considering the radios and extra towers as suggested.

    B. And it was only slightly cheaper than a new business coming in the radio tower market, with Dailey Wells has already had the Radio contract for 20 years! Should it been much cheaper?

    I think it should be taken under consideration that a company like Central Electric that is only in San Antonio working side by side with Motorola, had a better product (according to the respected departments) and had a bid close to the 20 year incumbent, who is also located in other states like Arizona and California.

    20 years ago San Antonio choose Ericsson a Swedish company who contracted out Dailey Wells for the radio tower contract because
    “Ericsson had a very good product. Their bid is are little higher dollar wise because it’s a better system…we dont want the city to award the contract to the lowest bidder just based on the low bid. We want to make sure the system is right for us” Alex Perez President of the San Antonio Police officers association, San Antonio Business Journal. 1997.

    This contract boosted Dailey Wells 20 years ago, we should now consider with the same thought process of the using the right product, boost a different San Antonio based company, and not allow a possible monopoly.

    Thank you for your time

  3. Months after the 911 attack in New York, a meeting of representatives of all Public Safety entities, as well as City staff and some City Council members was held. The purpose was to have a conversation about San Antonio’s preparedness in the event of a disaster. The stand out from the gathering was the inability of those in Public Safety and associated areas to effectively communicate with their radio systems.

    Let’s hope the decision by those involved in a vote for equipment isn’t politically driven, nor the influence of lobbiests.

  4. Our current radios were never designed for firefighting and they still do not hold up to the task. COSA do not make the same mistake twice

    34 year veteran SAFD

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