Replacing outdated public safety radio system still has Frederick supervisors at an impasse

WINCHESTER — How to proceed with replacing Frederick County’s outdated public safety radio system remains a contentious matter among members of the Frederick County Board of Supervisors.

More than two years ago, an assessment of the system by Pennsylvania-based Mission Critical Partners identified numerous problems. For one, the system’s capacity is limited, with no frequencies transmitted countywide, and there are a limited number of operational channels in the event primary dispatch channels get overloaded.

Four vendors responded to the county’s request for proposals (RFP) to replace the system. In November, an internal working group known as the Communications Committee, comprised of users of the system such as the Sheriff’s Office, the Fire & Rescue Department and emergency dispatchers, recommended that the board select Texas-based EF Johnson.

Mission Critical Partners helped develop the RFP and facilitated the RFP evaluation and vendor negotiations.

In the ensuing months, several board members raised concerns about the cost of replacing the system (estimated at over $21 million with EF Johnson), potentially “incomplete, inconsistent or inaccurate” statements made by Mission Critical Partners and the fact that EF Johnson had not built a large public safety radio system in Virginia.

During Wednesday night’s board meeting, disagreements arose among the supervisors about how to proceed. Red Bud Supervisor Blaine Dunn and Back Creek Supervisor Shawn Graber asked the board to consider terminating the current RFP and get a second opinion to evaluate it.

Dunn said if the board would not consider starting over with a new RFP, then it should at least consider allowing L3Harris — along with EF Johnson and Motorola — to give a cost for the project. He believes adding L3Harris to the mix would force the other two vendors to compete more vigorously. L3Harris responded to the original RFP, but the Communications Committee narrowed down the top candidates to EF Johnson and Motorola.

Dunn, Graber and Gainesboro Supervisor J. Douglas McCarthy said at a January board meeting that EF Johnson threatened to sue the county if the supervisors did not approve the Communications Committee’s recommendation to hire the company. The three assert that fear of litigation has deterred the other board members from wanting to consider alternatives.

On Wednesday night, Dunn, Graber and McCarthy voted to issue a new RFP with new parameters for the project. They argued that scrapping the old RFP and issuing a new one could help the county avoid litigation with EF Johnson and that it would give the supervisors another chance to negotiate a better price. But the motion failed when board Chairman Charles DeHaven Jr. and supervisors Judith McCann-Slaughter, David Stegmaier and Bob Wells voted against it.

After the initial vote failed, Dunn and Graber voted in a separate motion to add L3Harris to the negotiating table.

“I believe it is imperative that we owe it to the taxpayers to give them the best return for their dollar,” Graber said. “And I believe that the way we do that is to provide competition. Competition by simply adding this third party to the mix, which is a very competent vendor, would allow us that negotiating power to do that.”

DeHaven, McCann-Slaughter, Stegmaier, Wells and McCarthy voted against this motion, so it failed.

“While I agree with the motive behind the motion, I will vote against the motion,” McCarthy said. “I think it’s a dangerous motion in that you are basically picking and choosing certain people to reintroduce to it. We are already in the midst of threats of lawsuits, and I could only imagine what’s going to happen if we pick one company and throw them back into the process [where] the train’s left the station, so to speak.”

Wells and Stegmaier said the Communications Committee is reviewing the radio replacement situation and that the committee plans to provide an update to the board. They both recommended holding off on any decisions until the supervisors hear from the committee.