The City of San Antonio and Bexar County, two of the three negotiating parties in a proposed $106.6 million deal for first responder radio systems, do not agree on how – or even if – the contract will be finalized. Bexar County Commissioners say they have yet to give final approval to fund their portion of the contract, while City officials say the County already did.

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff described the negotiations as “terrible.”

The contract is more than two years in the making, and County officials say the negotiation process was difficult because the City insisted on having more administrative control over the new devices than the County. The two-way radio system is used by firefighters, police officers, and CPS Energy linesmen.

“Things finally worked out okay, but it was a long, tortuous process,” Nelson Wolff told the Rivard Report.

City Council is expected to vote on the contract next Thursday. No date has been set for the Commissioners’ vote.

Original drafts of the agreement required that the county go through a City committee in order to access the vendor in the event of any service or technical issues, he said.

That access was granted in the final contract, but County officials are still concerned about the price.

Bexar County Commissioners unanimously voted on Jan. 11 to join an interlocal agreement with the City of San Antonio and CPS Energy that divides ownership of the public safety radio system among the three entities. For more than 15 years, the City and County operated their first responder radio systems under a joint contract with the San Antonio-based company Dailey-Wells. That system is nearing the end of its useful life and needs to be replaced with newer technologies.

But Bexar County Commissioner Kevin Wolff (Pct. 3) said he and some other commissioners are still unhappy with the terms laid out in the three-way agreement.

The interlocal agreement “in my mind is certainly an agreement in principle, assuming the numbers come out correctly,” Kevin Wolff said. “If they don’t, then I don’t see us going forward with it.”

At a meeting Wednesday night, City staff recommended that Council approve another contract with Dailey-Wells, which uses equipment manufactured by the Harris Corporation. On a scoring matrix used to assess bids for the contract, Dailey-Wells scored just 4.93 more points than Central Electric, which uses Motorola equipment. Firefighters prefer the Motorola handsets, but City officials say those may be used on the Harris system.

That agreement divides the cost of the project among the three participating parties: Bexar County and CPS Energy would each pay 22 percent, and the City of San Antonio would pay the remaining 56 percent. Bexar County Manager David Smith told the Rivard Report that County staff is reviewing the actual contract documents to assure the County’s capital cost is around $17 million.

Kevin Wolff said much of the issue the County had with the City’s proposed renewal came down to issues of control.

“For whatever reason, the City this time has decided they want to change that [agreement] to where it leaves us with very diminished powers in regards to the management of whatever vendor and contract [is approved],” Kevin Wolff said. “For instance, if we have a problem, we’re not allowed to contact the vendor directly, we have to submit our problem to a committee of City staff, who will determine whether or not our problem should be addressed with the vendor.”

Jeff Coyle, government and public affairs director for the City of San Antonio, said it’s unclear why Wolff was questioning an interlocal agreement that commissioners already unanimously approved.

“Our expectation is that [the] whole interlocal agreement, which lays out exactly how much it costs, and who’s paying what … was carefully negotiated over a long period of time and then voted on and approved,” Coyle said.

Nelson Wolff told the Rivard Report on Wednesday night that he did not know the total amount the County would be expected to pay. Another vote will determine whether the County agrees to fund it he said.

Coyle did not say how that vote could affect implementation of the agreement, if approved by the City Council on Feb. 15.

Experience is one of the categories that gave Dailey-Wells and Harris Corporation an advantage over Central Electric and Motorola in the City’s scoring matrix. But firefighters overwhelmingly preferred Motorola handsets to the Harris counterpart, Erik Walsh, deputy city manager for the City of San Antonio, told City Council on Wednesday.

“It’s important from the Fire Department’s perspective because they’re using those radios with gloved hands,” Walsh said.

The contract allows for the Fire Department to purchase any handset they want, Walsh said, and that the Harris Corporation is creating a new handset in 2019 that could have similar or better features than Motorola’s.

Lee Stanphill, former communications and technical services lieutenant with the San Antonio Fire Department, told the Rivard Report that it’s a “mistake” not to use Motorola products. He’s also skeptical that Harris Corporation’s system will accommodate all of the Motorola device’s features.

“The Motorola engineers will tell you that there are numerous features that will not, such as the personnel accountability suite of software, GPS location,” Stanphill said. “This is the stuff they’re going to have to use in burning buildings and the worst conditions imaginable for the next 15 years.”

Nelson Wolff said the County considered using a Motorola system with the Texas Department of Transportation Services, but that partnering with the City is cheaper.

It would cost about $75 million for the County to develop its own system, Walsh said, citing information presented to commissioners during a Jan. 11 work session.

Still, Kevin Wolff said there is an opportunity for the County to go out on its own, and it would not have a problem paying for the system if it came to that.

During Wednesday’s Council meeting, however, City Attorney Andy Segovia said the County is locked into the deal.

Throughout the contract renewal process, Kevin Wolff said there was a disconnect between the City and County communications.

“This is not good operations between the County and the City,” he said.

Jeffrey Sullivan

Jeffrey Sullivan is a Rivard Report reporter. He graduated from Trinity University with a degree in Political Science.