San Antonio City Council approved a three-year, $9.6-million contract Thursday with Motorola Solutions Inc. to purchase more than 1,200 personnel radios for the San Antonio Fire Department.
The approval came after representatives from another company vying for the contract accused the city and its fire department of “tampering” with the process — an accusation that received stern rebukes from city staff and several council members.
Motorola Solutions was up against competing manufacturer L3Harris Technologies for the contract, and City Manager Erik Walsh said that radios from each company were subjected to the same, vigorous testing to decide the award.
After learning that two of their radios had failed during a test of the equipment, L3Harris Technologies “developed a root cause analysis and confirm conclusively that those radios were tampered with purposely and intentionally damaged prior to the evaluation,” Todd Perdieu, vice president of products at L3Harris, told City Council in testimony Thursday aimed at stopping the award of the contract to Motorola. “I respectfully request that you vote no to this agenda item and take the time to dive a little deeper.”
Despite Perdieu’s testimony, Walsh recommended the contract be awarded.
“If I had a sense that there was evidence of purposeful tampering, then this item wouldn’t be before you today,” Walsh said later. “They burned those radios, they dunked them in water — they do all kinds of things.”
More than 300 firefighters participated in field testing and the selection process, San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood said. “The safety and survivability of our members is the most important thing, so for anyone to accuse us of tampering with our radios, which [are] the lifeblood of our department, is absolutely insulting.”
Council’s vote on Thursday was the conclusion of a saga that started in 2018, when the city awarded Dailey & Wells Communications a 15-year contract to upgrade and expand the entire public safety communications network utilized by the San Antonio Police Department, Bexar County and CPS Energy. It was a collaborative agreement between the city, the county and CPS.
Bexar County initially delayed signing off on the agreement over concerns of administrative control, but eventually joined. The city retained discretion over which radios to purchase in the future for the fire department because firefighters and paramedics work in very different conditions and environments, deputy city manager María Villagómez said.
L3Harris worked with Dailey & Wells to develop a new radio for firefighters to use, but testing found that they experience “catastrophic failures” during testing, Hood said.
Dailey & Wells and L3Harris were given several years to develop a new radio to compete for the fire radio contract, Villagómez said.
Motorola radios are used by “most large fire departments across the country,” she added, including those in Austin, Houston, Dallas, Chicago and New York City.
While the Motorola radios tested better, they are more expensive and they will take about 22 weeks to be delivered to the department — but it’s “absolutely” worth it, Hood argued to council members.
The contract with Motorola was approved unanimously, but Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8), who pulled the contract from the agenda to be discussed, was not present for the vote.
Pelaez told the San Antonio Report after the vote that he believed a contract of this size and importance merited a public conversation. Dailey & Wells and L3Harris sent a letter to City Council outlining their concerns earlier this week, and Pelaez met with company representatives on Wednesday.
“What the chief confirmed for us today was that they tested both [radios] with equal tests. … That’s what we needed to hear,” Pelaez said.
Dailey & Wells operates and maintains the entire public safety communication system in Bexar County, he said.
This company and city staff “really need to get on the same page,” he said. “Today they were talking past each other, and not to each other. That’s the one thing that worries me right now.”
While three different L3Harris representatives lodged various attacks related to the “lack of transparency” of the testing process, CJ Hijazi, senior vice president of Dailey & Wells, praised the city as a valued partner.
“We are extremely disappointed at the outcome of the fire radio [contract], but we understand and respect the SAFD decision,” Hijazi told the council. “I truly believe that our radio is the best for San Antonio.”
Before the vote, Councilwoman Teri Castillo (D5) chastised Pelaez for elevating the baseless accusations into a public forum.
“Our firefighters deserve to have technology that they trust and I find it extremely insulting to pull items, scurry away and leave a platform for misinformation,” Castillo said.
Pelaez, who is an attorney, said he had to rush to a client meeting that he had already rescheduled after a particularly long morning of ceremonial procedures during the council meeting.
“Teri can take a swipe at me all she wants,” he said. “Politics is a full-contact sport. If we’re not taking swipes at each other, then we’re not playing the game.”