City says no to North Fulton radio net

Council has concerns over lack of bids

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JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – Given a deadline of Jan. 18 to be “in or out” of the cities of North Fulton – Alpharetta, Roswell, Milton and Sandy Springs – proposed public safety radio net, the Johns Creek City Council said no in a Jan. 14 vote.

The cities have been working on a North Fulton public safety radio net because it can no longer rely on the Fulton County net. There are “dead” areas where reception is faulty or non-existent.

That makes it a public safety issue when fire personnel or police can’t communicate in an emergency.

“The Fulton County system is 20 years old. There is poor signal and increased dead spots in the current system,” said Carl Hall, Alpharetta’s 911 manager in an Alpharetta council meeting. “Lots of Milton is not covered and portions of Alpharetta.”

The Fulton County emergency system is so outdated it will not meet FCC requirements by 2014, according to Alpharetta staff. Fulton County has begun the process of building a new net with a budget of $26 million.

At the heart of the matter, council stated its concerns that the proposed $16 million cooperative project was not bid out. The other cities agreed to use the state contract negotiated with Motorola to buy its equipment.

Also, the council voiced concerns that Fulton County when it moves ahead with its countywide updated radio net that the North Fulton cities would be required to pay for the second system of the county.

Councilman Randall Johnson said Motorola has offered a discount if the cities sign up now of almost a $1 million savings.

“But how do we know it is a savings if we haven’t bid out the project,” he asked.

The normal process is to have the consultant analyze the clients’ needs and weigh the various options to meet those specifications, Johnson said.

“Then you have competitive bids and evaluate them to select the best one,” he said.

City Manager John Kachmar told the City Council in his opinion the process has been faulty and there has been a rush to get the project done.

“The process should have been more open. You want to make it as competitive as possible,” Kachmar said.

He recommended Johns Creek go out on its own and develop its own specification and “follow a more normal procurement channel.” He wants “other experts” to evaluate the proposal.

“This is more than just selecting a Ford or a Chevrolet from the state’s bid list. This is a $16 million system. The smarter way is to bid it out independently,” Kachmar said. “We may wind up with the same company, but I wouldn’t use as my consultant a company [Commdex] that is the bidder’s vendor.”

Kachmar called Motorola’s offer of a discount to sign up now as “used car salesman techniques. And the cities fell for it.”

Both Harris Corp. and Kenwood Corp. representatives appeared at the Jan. 14 City Council meeting to say they would welcome the opportunity to bid on the project.

Councilwoman Karen Richardson said she had further objections because the management structure does not exist for the system and won’t until special legislation is passed in this session of the General Assembly.

Talking with other four cities, there is disagreement with the picture Johns Creek has drawn. Roswell Mayor Jere Wood said there has been no “rush” to build the public safety radio net, but rather it has been a painstaking two years of investigation and work.

“Motorola is what most of the neighboring jurisdictions use, so it is a good thing to be compatible with them since we often work together,” Wood said.

Roswell City Administrator Kay Love said it is inaccurate to say that the there is no request for proposals (RFP) involved in developing the system.

“We are buying the radios through the state purchasing contract, but there is a great deal more involved than that. But there are other elements in building the system where an RFP is called for, such as the construction of towers,” Love said.

She also said there will not be an overlap of the proposed county system and North Fulton’s net.

“This has been looked at on a number of levels from a management structure level to very technical analysis done by our officers who will have to depend on them,” said Love. “But I can’t tell you why four cities have looked at this and approved it and one city has not.”

Wood said the intergovernmental agreement will have to be rewritten for the four cities, but he believes they will go forward.

“We want a system we control and maintain. We weren’t happy with the way Fulton County did things. I think in the end, when Johns Creek has satisfied themselves, they will find it best they join us at a later date,” Wood said.

Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle agreed. He said was confident in the collaborative process that brought them to this point and the job the cities’ staff did.

“I think they will find it cheaper to buy into our system in the long run,” Belle Isle said.