The discussion on upgrading the county’s radio communications is set to continue at 10 a.m. Monday, May 18, according to Cooke County Judge Jason Brinkley.
Members of the Cooke County Commissioners’ Court were unable to decide how they wanted to proceed with the action item this week, so it’s being placed on the commissioners’ meeting agenda yet again. Commissioners meet inside the Commissioners’ Courtroom at the Cooke County Courthouse in downtown Gainesville.
On April 13, commissioners learned of the two proposals received to improve the county’s public safety radio communications system.
Self Radio Inc. from Montague, Texas, guaranteed 95% coverage which is what the county was aiming for, Cooke County Emergency Management Coordinator Ray Fletcher previously told members of the court.
L3Harris Technologies Inc. out of Lynchburg, Virginia, would only be able to primarily provide 73% coverage and “might be able to get 84% at an alternate configuration,” Fletcher said.
He said the total price for “just the system to be built out” is $1,367,000 for Self Radio and $1.9 million for L3Harris, according to an archived Register report. Fletcher also told commissioners that L3Harris would take 17 months to complete and Self Radio would be done in 10 months.
“It makes you wonder if both of them were bidding the same project,” Precinct 1 Commissioner Gary Hollowell said Monday, May 11,when comparing the coverage and cost difference.
When Hollowell asked if the county would see more comparable proposals if the county rebid, Tom Murphy with Trott Communications Group explained he “wouldn’t be surprised” if L3Harris didn’t participate on the second go-around.
Irving-based Trott Communications was initially hired by commissioners in 2018 to conduct a communications study for the county. Since then, they have been involved in designing a system to help the county achieve more than 95% coverage and was approved to handle the RFP process in December 2018. So far, the county has spent $49,486 for all three phases, Brinkley previously said.
Keith Whitt, Trott’s vice president of consulting services, said that his company’s coverage study showed that 95% coverage was attainable. “Certainly we wouldn’t have asked for 95% in the RFP if we believed that wasn’t possible to do,” he said.
Hollowell said he was amazed only one vendor said they could guarantee 95% coverage.
“We are the ones that are taking the risk and it’s the taxpayer dollar that I’m spending,” he said.
Representatives with Trott said two to three vendors typically respond to projects like the county’s.
Commissioners questioned if there was a problem with the county’s process for requests for proposals.
Precinct 4 Commissioner Leon Klement said he didn’t even know the county had a radio committee to work through everything.
Fletcher said the committee consists of himself, Brinkley, Precinct 2 Commissioner Jason Snuggs, Cooke County Emergency Medical Services Chief Kevin Grant and Cooke County Sheriff Terry Gilbert.
Fletcher said they met, but he couldn’t recall how many times.
Brinkley told the Register that the “working group” was formed during the connectivity study part of the process in early 2018. It met “only a handful of times over the two-year period,” he said.
“The purpose of the group was primarily the practical application side,” Brinkley said, adding the group usually met shortly before radio communications came back to the court for discussion.
Hollowell and Klement said the committee wasn’t approved by the court.
Murphy said selecting a vendor’s proposal would be to begin contract negotiations only.
The overall project could cost the county $2 million in the next year or two. With a service agreement, it could be more than $4.5 million, Klement said, while adding “that’s a lot of money.”
“We have a need and we need to address that need,” Brinkley said of selecting a firm to move forward with. “That’s as simple as it gets.”