Did county wait too long for E-911 deals?

2013-06-02T00:00:00Z 2013-08-29T19:29:04Z Did county wait too long for E-911 deals?Bill Dolan bill.dolan@nwi.com, (219) 662-5328 nwitimes.com
June 02, 2013 12:00 am  • 

CROWN POINT | Lake County officials are debating whether they have time to shop for the lowest price on what could be one of the largest electronics purchases in county government history.

They must build and equip a consolidated E-911 network in only 19 months that could cost the public $15 million or more under a state mandate requiring the merger of 17 county and municipal police and fire communication systems by 2014.

They must buy communications consoles for dispatchers, mobile units to be worn by hundreds of police officers and firefighters, communication towers along with computers and software to process the data stream.

Police and fire chiefs advising officials on the network's design have been urging the county to hire telecommunications giant Motorola Solutions of Schaumburg, Ill., as the vendor. More than a dozen of them already rely on Motorola equipment.

Some on the Lake County Council, who must come up with the money, and the Board of Commissioners, who award the contracts have said Motorola should be required to compete in a routine bidding process.

However, Commissioner Roosevelt Allen, D-Gary, who last week called on the chiefs to support competitive bidding, said Friday time may have run out on that option.

Allen said that is the verdict of Brian Hitchcock, the prime candidate to become Lake County's next E-911 director.

"(Hitchcock) has performed three previous consolidations, so he has experience and wherewithal to do the job. I asked him about competitive bidding and he felt it was too late in our process," Allen said. "He said he wished he had been brought in six months earlier."

Lake County officials began talking about consolidating E-911 five years ago, but only became serious about it in 2011 when they asked municipal public safety officials to set up a competitive bidding process in 2012.

But the county had to scrub that last year when the county's consultants failed to draw up proper specifications for the gear needed.

"There hasn't been a real leader at the helm for months ... The General Assembly has refused to extend the deadline. County government elected to procrastinate," Allen said.

He said he believes it is only fair to delay further action until Hitchcock assumes his position as director this summer.

Quality Purchase Agreement program has designated Motorola as a qualified vendor. Under the program, Motorola must give local governments a discount on radio equipment purchases.

QPA also is a legal exception to state law requiring elected officials to open to competitive bid any purchase of goods valued at more than $150,000, Tammy White, a State Board of Accounts supervisor said. Her agency oversees county financial transactions.

But a no-bid contract is terrible policy, Schererville attorney James Wieser said. He represents Cassidian Communications of California, a potential bidder on the E-911 project.

"It's extremely likely that if they use QPA as Lake's sole source procurement, we will spend substantially greater money ... millions of dollars greater money, I would expect," Wieser said. 

Wieser said it also sends the wrong signal to a public already skeptical about how wisely elected officials will spend revenues from the newly enacted local option income tax on county residents and workers.

Steve Gorecki, a spokesman for Motorola, said his company supports the police and fire chiefs' decision to push for the QPA as the best and quickest avenue for this major purchase. He said several other Indiana counties have had success with this method.

Lake County Attorney John Dull said he will investigate the QPA process to find out if other counties using the QPA process encountered problems.

"I want to know how much they spent. It's the dollar amount of the purchase that bothers everybody. I don't think our commissioners want to spend more money than they have too, and they are all leery of this process. The problem is, time is running out," Dull said.

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