County weighs deal on fix for radios
By Steve Herring
Published in News on January 8, 2014 1:46 PM
Wayne County commissioners spent more than two hours Tuesday dissecting a $3 million contract to fix the county's troubled radio system.
But other than voting down a motion by Commissioner Steve Keen to require a change in how radios will be tested, the board ended the day leaving the contract unsigned.
Instead, commissioners recessed their meeting until Thursday at 5 p.m. in the boardroom on the fourth floor of the county courthouse annex.
They did so to give County Attorney Borden Parker time to renegotiate sections of the contract with Cary-based Radio Communications Co. even though the board last fall had approved allowing Keen, who was board chairman at the time, to sign the contract contingent upon Parker's review. A budget amendment has been approved as well.
The major sticking points for the board Tuesday were the contract's performance bond and what Keen said was a need for a better way to test how the radios will work once the improvements are made.
Commissioner Joe Daughtery questioned the performance bond that would gradually decrease as the project progressed.
Daughtery argued that the performance bond should be in full force through the end of the project.
However, as the contract is now worded, the bond would be down to about 10 percent, or about $300,000, as the project neared completion, he said.
That means the company would not have too much to lose and could simply walk away, Daughtery said.
Daughtery made a motion that Parker renegotiate the contract to require the performance bond to be in full force across the life of the project.
Before a vote could be taken, Keen offered an amendment to change how radios would be tested.
Keen said he was concerned that RCC's methodology did not call for manual testing of the radios in buildings.
Mel Powers, county emergency management and security director, told Keen that RCC would use equipment to measure how the radio waves penetrate buildings.
That, Powers said, is a worldwide-accepted standard. Also, RCC has provided in the contract what it was asked for, he said.
Keen said it might be a standard elsewhere, "but what is the standard in Wayne County?"
The concern is that there are certain types of buildings where the radio system might not work properly, such as the jail, large department stores and others, he said.
Keen suggested that the county select certain of those buildings and have RCC go inside them to test the radios.
The motion failed 4-3. Keen and Commissioners Ray Mayo and Bill Pate voted yes. Commissioners John Bell, Vice Chairman Ed Cromartie, Chairman Wayne Aycock and Daughtery voted no.
Bell drew a rebuke from Mayo when he suggested that the "expert commissioners should be sent along."
Mayo said it was not a laughing matter and that fire chiefs in his district and citizens had demanded something be done about the radio system.
Mayo said it was his right as a commissioner to ask questions.
Board members agreed that no system was perfect. In response to questioning by Cromartie, Powers said a total and different design would be needed to reach the optimum level.
"Mr. Mayo, regardless of what type of system you have, you have got to have procedures in place in order to cover you when you go out," Bell said. "I have been out on calls with two people in the same area -- one radio worked, the other didn't.
"I carried a radio for years. I have never seen a radio system work 100 percent of the time in any building you go into. I have never seen that."
Mayo asked what the county's liability is if it did not have coverage in certain buildings.
"What I am saying is that maybe we cannot afford not to have (coverage)," he said.
He asked if anyone knew if other counties had systems that provided coverage to all buildings except for bank vaults.
"None that I am aware of," Powers said.
It is an issue nationwide, Office of Emergency Services Director Joe Gurley said.
"There are some counties that have solved the problems," Mayo said. "Is that right?"
"Can you give us those counties?" Powers said. "I don't know of any."
Mayo said he was just asking if they knew of any.
Gurley said he wasn't saying there weren't any, but that he did not know of any counties that had solved the problem.
Daughtery agreed there was no system that would provide 100 percent coverage 100 percent of the time. Clearly there is going to be coverage gaps in some buildings, he said.
"I think this board recognizes that cost is prohibitive to bring about what goal the county has and that is to reach 100 percent of the places," he said.
Daughtery said RCC had guaranteed a level of coverage, but that he wanted "some teeth" in that guarantee. He said that is why he wanted the performance bond strengthened.
He asked that Aycock be authorized to sign the contract with one condition -- that Parker negotiate "the best performance bond" for as much protection as possible.
Near the end of the meeting, Daughtery asked that the vote on his motion be delayed until the Thursday meeting after Parker's negotiations with RCC on the performance bond.
"What I am hearing from Mr. Daughtery is that $10 million didn't work, $3 million may not work and all you want to do is get a performance bond," Keen said. "It is not all about the money.
"It is about firefighters going into these buildings and knowing when they get there, 'Is this building going to be OK for me to get into?'"