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Wivell says contract dealing is 'ridiculous'

February 06, 2006|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Nearly two months after the Washington County Commissioners criticized the Washington County Board of Education for awarding two school design contracts based on quality rather than price, Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell accused his colleagues of doing the same thing with a project that could top $20 million.

The commissioners on Tuesday authorized a committee to negotiate with a company for the possible design, purchase and installation of an emergency communications system, and they did so without knowing the price the company is asking, Wivell said in a telephone interview.

The vote made the commissioners look like "a bunch of hypocrites," he said.

Public Works Director Gary Rohrer and some commissioners disagreed, saying the county's action couldn't be compared to the school board's.

"How's it any different? We've authorized them to go forward and negotiate a contract," Wivell said.

Wivell said the commissioners acted after seeing a report from a consultant that compared proposals from two companies, one of which the committee identified as the "preferred vendor."

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The committee picked the company that best met the county's goals, he said.

Munson said, to the best of his knowledge, only two companies submitted proposals.

The School Board authorized contract negotiations with two companies for the design of two schools, then awarded the contracts based on the quality of the proposals rather than cost. A company that wasn't chosen said school board members passed up an opportunity to save more than $700,000 by using quality-based selection.

The commissioners later told the school board to rethink its quality-based selection process and put more emphasis on cost.

Wivell said he supports the new emergency communications system but that he couldn't vote for the negotiations without seeing a price comparison of the two proposals. He said county staff knew price estimates, but they did not tell the commissioners. He has asked for that information but has not yet received it, he said.

"To me, that's just ridiculous," Wivell said.

Rohrer defended the way the county committee handled the matter, saying the project was so complex and technical that the price proposals were dozens of pages and "subject to interpretation."

"It would be easy to misinterpret what a company was proposing," Rohrer said.

"And the commissioners are too stupid to figure it out?" Wivell asked.

Munson and Commissioner James F. Kercheval also said what the county did was different than what the school board did.

"This isn't the same thing," Kercheval said. "It's much more complex ..."

The county budgeted $21.7 million for the system, known as the public safety radio project. Rohrer said he hopes the project will cost less than the amount budgeted.

The committee, made up of mostly county staff members, will negotiate the cost and details of what the project will include.

"Our first objective is to get the best communications system that will address all of the issues ..." Rohrer said. "Then, we have to see what's affordable."

If a price agreement can't be met, it's possible the committee would "go back to the drawing board," Kercheval said.

The names of the companies that submitted proposals and the consultant's report have not been released to the public.

County Purchasing Agent Karen Luther said Tuesday that was because the information might contain "proprietary information." Rohrer said he thought the names and report would be released when the committee makes a recommendation to the commissioners about whether to purchase the system from the company with which it will negotiate.

County officials have said a new communications system will improve communication between police, fire and ambulance officials responding to emergencies. The system will replace one that is more than 30 years old system and often hampers communications among emergency responders, they said.

The new system will include the construction of several communications towers, and the purchase of 1,250 mobile and portable radios, and alpha-numeric pagers.

Police and emergency responders have said that a weak radio system causes interference and sometimes fails entirely while crews are responding to calls. The new system would speed up communication and allow police and fire and rescue personnel who are in the field to communicate directly with noncounty agencies, including the Hagerstown Police Department.

The current system does not allow such communication.

If police arrive at a scene and travel more than a quarter-mile from their vehicles, their portable radios do not provide communicate with dispatchers or other vehicles.

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