Scott Ball / Rivard Report
Bexar County Commissioners voted 3-2 Tuesday to start from scratch the process of selecting a company to provide Bexar County sheriffs deputies with roughly 500 body and in-car cameras, adding three to four months before any deal may be reached.
Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar recommended two weeks ago that commissioners approve negotiating a contract with AXON for body and in-car cameras, even though the sheriff's department purchased 300 cameras from competitor Utility for roughly $900,000 in 2015 during Sheriff Susan Pamerleau's tenure.
"We've had cameras for two years and we haven't done a damn thing," Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said at the meeting Tuesday.
Neither company went through a formal competitive bidding process, County Manager David Smith said. He recommended that commissioners issue a "request for proposals" and have each company present their products to a County-approved evaluation committee. Commissioners Sergio Rodriguez (Pct. 1) and Paul Elizondo (Pct. 2) voted against the motion, while Kevin Wolff (Pct. 3), Tommy Calvert (Pct. 4), and Judge Wolff voted in support.
The decision continues a years-long County effort to deploy body and dashboard cameras for sheriff's deputies.
According to a financial report produced by Smith's office and presented to commissioners Tuesday, the County would spend roughly $4.2 million maintaining its contract with Utility, based in Decatur, Georgia, for the next 10 years. The 10-year contract with AXON, of Scottsdale, Arizona, would cost up to $8.3 million. Those figures are expected to change throughout the request for proposals process.
At the Commissioners Court meeting on Feb. 27, Salazar and Assistant Chief Deputy James Serrato argued that the cameras offered by AXON are better than Utility's, with Salazar adding that the department conducted internal testing with around 100 AXON cameras and preferred them.
“I am confident that this product that we’re asking you all to let us consider is the better product for our needs,” Salazar said at that meeting. “I would stake my reputation on it.”
Utility company representatives who presented at the February meeting, however, angrily contested Salazar's points, saying that previously available avenues of communication to the department were cut, and that the sheriff's department presented false information to the commissioners. At the time, Commissioner Wolff said the presentation deteriorated into a "he said, she said" debate.
Utility officials aren't the only ones who have criticized AXON at Commissioners Court. On Mar. 7, Calvert distributed a press release stating he would add an anti-corruption clause to an AXON contract that prohibited County officials from accepting trips or gifts paid for by AXON. That clause was not discussed on Tuesday.
"The two bidders that we're dealing with have sharp elbows and big teeth," Judge Wolff said at the beginning of the meeting.
Commissioners wouldn't hear comments from either company during the meeting on Tuesday, including Utility's CEO Ted Davis, who flew in from Atlanta to attend the meeting. Rodriguez said allowing the two to openly speak would just start more "biting."
Speaking to reporters after the vote, Salazar said he was fine with commissioners sending the issue back to the request for proposals stage.
"I just want to work through it and get the best camera that we possibly can out as quickly and efficiently as we possibly can," he said, adding that he hopes to continue use of 100 AXON cameras the department currently has. However, Salazar said he did not see any reason for using the 300 Utility body and in-car cameras currently sitting on a shelf.
"I think the existing body cameras could be used right now," Calvert told reporters after the meeting. "But there's been dragging of feet, and I hope that'll stop."
Judge Wolff also said he believed the cameras could be deployed now.
County Commissioners also unanimously voted Tuesday to approve an interlocal agreement between the County, City of San Antonio, and CPS Energy to provide a public first responder radio system. The City selected Dailey-Wells for the 15-year, $108 million contract.
There were questions leading up to the vote about whether or not the County would ultimately sign onto the deal or seek to create its own radio system contract. Commissioners previously expressed frustration about being a limited partner in the deal – contributing 22 percent of its cost – and not having the ability to directly approach the vendor with potential grievances.
"As things have gone along the contract language has changed to 'balance out' my issues with the [interlocal agreement]," Commissioner Wolff stated in a text message sent after the vote.
Judge Wolff said after the meeting that it would have cost the County an additional $12 million to create its own public radio system.