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Panels vote to restart emergency radio bids; Complaint prompts shift to RFP process

After Kenwood USA Corp. complained that its bid to build Niagara County's new emergency radio system wasn't given to county leaders, two County Legislature committees voted unanimously Tuesday to start the bid process again.

The committees decided that this time, the county will use a formal request for proposals, or RFP, to obtain prices for a federally mandated makeover of the emergency radio system.

For almost a year, the county had been talking privately with vendors, with most first responders seeming to favor Motorola Solutions, the company that supplied most of their portable radios.

However, the Legislature's Administration and Community Safety and Security committees voted June 14 to award the contract to Harris Corp. of Rochester.

In a letter obtained by The Buffalo News, Motorola asserted that county officials leaked information about the technical aspects of its bid to enable Harris to beat it. Harris denied the accusation.

Tuesday, County Attorney Claude A. Joerg read aloud a letter from John North, Kenwood's general manager for systems.

North wrote that Kenwood representatives met with John F. Cecula III, the county's interim emergency management director, Feb. 20 and May 20 but that the bid was allegedly never forwarded to the project manager, L.R. Kimball Associates, for analysis.

An e-mail from North last week included a bid of $6.8 million.

However, it was unclear how comparable Kenwood's details were to Harris' $13.4 million bid or the $11.1 million bid Motorola included in its letter of protest after the committees had voted for Harris. Before that, Motorola's price was $18 million.

"In hindsight, maybe we should have gone out to RFP," Cecula said.

Legislators had asserted that wasn't necessary because the vendors had state contracts for equipment supplies.

"The way the business was conducted was not professional," North wrote.

Majority Leader Richard E. Updegrove, R-Lockport, called the Kenwood letter "disturbing."

"We were told there were two vendors," Updegrove said. "We will determine why it was that there was that communications breakdown. It is unacceptable."

Asked whether his job is in peril, Cecula said, "I don't think so."

County Manager Jeffrey M. Glatz said, "I haven't talked to John. There's two sides to every story."

Asked to comment on the accusation that the county acted unprofessionally, Cecula said, "I'm not sure, because this is my first time going through this."

An overflow crowd of more than 50 volunteer firefighters, many in uniform, applauded when the committees accepted Joerg's advice and voted for an RFP process.

Glatz said the Kimball firm will prepare the RFP with input from users.

"The first responders will have some say, but the sky's not the limit," warned Legislator Paul B. Wojtaszek, R-North Tonawanda, the Community Safety chairman.

He said the Legislature needs to balance the need for equipment upgrades with the cost.

Wojtaszek said it might take two months to complete the RFP process.

The county faces a Federal Communications Commission mandate that emergency radio systems take up less space on the radio spectrum by Jan. 1, 2013, a process called "narrowbanding."

"As long as we get this project under way and nearly completed [by the deadline]," Wojtaszek said, "I can't picture the FCC coming down on us."