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Company protests Niagara County phone bid process

LOCKPORT – A second meeting of Niagara County Legislature committees to discuss the bidding for a new county government telephone system was announced Thursday, as one of the bidders charged that the county falsified its bid documents to favor another manufacturer’s equipment.

Carl Carbone, business development executive for Advance 2000, a reseller of Alcatel-Lucent equipment, said this week that he thinks the bid documents were written to favor vendors of Cisco Systems technology.

He and Advance 2000 chief financial officer Jad Maouad showed copies of the county’s request for proposals, or RFP, which used Cisco part numbers and said the county wanted those parts “or equivalents.”

They said that ECC Technologies, the county’s consultant, added costs to Advance 2000’s bid, making it higher than that of IPLogic, another Amherst company that sells Cisco equipment.

Maouad said Advance 2000 might sue the county if the contract is awarded to IPLogic.

“We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that it’s all about getting the taxpayer the lowest price to accomplish what they need to accomplish,” Maouad said. “It’s not about getting a particular brand.”

The charge of bid rigging was strongly denied Thursday by County Attorney Claude A. Joerg.

However, some legislators reacted as if there might be something to it.

“We were asked by the management to pass a resolution to award the bid to IPLogic,” said Legislator John Syracuse, R-Newfane, chairman of the Public Works Committee. “The tone of the whole Legislature is, we want to review these bids.”

That will happen at a Feb. 10 meeting, added Thursday to the county meeting schedule.

“It looked like the consultants were originally leaning toward IPLogic, and we want to know why, when it seemed like Advance 2000 was the lowest bid,” said Anthony J. Nemi, I-Lockport, chairman of the Administration Committee.

Syracuse said, “The consultants seemed to add costs onto Advance 2000’s bid. Was the RFP slanted toward a Cisco product?”

“Larry [county Information Technology Director Larry L. Helwig] tried to compare apples to apples,” Joerg said in explaining the bid revisions.

Helwig said at least twice during last week’s meeting, “This is a Cisco shop.”

Thursday, he said, “Cisco is the standard. They write the standards.” The best two base bids for a new phone and data network were $605,184 from Advance 2000 for Alcatel-Lucent equipment, and $673,641 from IP Logic for Cisco gear.

Three other companies submitted higher prices and were eliminated from consideration.

Then the county’s consultants started adding costs into the bids. The resulting revised totals were $761,773 for IPLogic versus $816,862 for Advance 2000.

There were eight separate additions to Advance 2000’s bid and only two changes to the IPLogic offer.

One of the additions to the Advance 2000 bid was $69,217 for higher-priced Cisco switches because Alcatel-Lucent switches allegedly don’t meet the county’s requirements, a claim vigorously denied by the Advance 2000 executives.

Helwig said, “They don’t have something that can meet that spec. They’re trying to lower our standards.”

Syracuse said freshman Legislator Randy R. Bradt, R-North Tonawanda, is “tech-savvy” and zeroed in on the switch issue during a Jan. 22 joint session of the Public Works and Administration committees.

Colin Sheridan, CEO of IPLogic, said he thought everything was on the level. “We received the RFP, responded accordingly and followed their process,” he said.

Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, said the situation reminds him of the 2011 bidding for a new emergency radio system, when Harris Corp. charged that the county drew up specifications to favor rival Motorola Solutions, which eventually won the contract.

“There’s a pattern here of something that ought to be looked at,” Virtuoso said.