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Motorola awarded Rockdale public safety radio contract

CONYERS -- Rockdale County will move forward on a $5 million contract to upgrade its public safety radio system despite public opposition leading up to the vote by the Board of Commissioners.

The BOC voted 2 to 1 to approve the radio upgrade contract with Motorola during Tuesday's regular meeting. Democrats Oz Nesbitt and Commission Chairman Richard Oden voted for the contract while Republican JaNice Van Ness voted against the measure.

The contract will add two new radio towers and upgrade the county's analog system to a P25 digital network. The Motorola contract garnered support from Rockdale Fire and Rescue, Emergency 911 Communications and the Rockdale County Sheriff's Office.

The county's 2010 1-percent sales tax program, or SPLOST, will cover $4.5 million of the cost while other funding sources, such as the county's 911 Fund and General Fund, will cover the balance.

Along with the upgrade to digital, the county is seeking better coverage. Currently, the two towers on Smyrna Road and at the Rockdale County Jail leave gaps on the east side of the county. The new towers would be placed on county property off Miller Bottom Road and at Earl O'Neal Park.

Critics charge that the process was poorly handled. Questions about how the Request for Proposals, or RFP, was prepared caused the county to suspend the bidding process in October. Last week, Fire Chief Frank Wilson presented the contract that was prepared without bidding but was based on a state contract, which the county is allowed to do.

County resident Ed Tracy told the commissioners during public comment time he believes the system will end up costing taxpayers more with no bidding from other venders.

"I guess, in your own words Mr. Chairman from a few years ago, you wanted a transparent government. Transparency means open bids where all companies get to compete (and) drive down the price," Tracy said. "If you tell a salesman 'you're the guy I'm going with,' you and I both know you're not going to get the best price because he already gotcha, so I think we need competition. You may still choose Motorola in the end, but competitors will drive that price down, guaranteed."

Van Ness said she had similar reasons for not voting for the contract and sought to add an addendum to the contract that would have future upgrades and other services open for bidding.

Nesbitt said he believed the process had been transparent. He noted that the county's public safety agencies reviewed the project along with members of the SPLOST Citizens Oversight Committee and Tracy, who hosted a forum on the topic along with the South Rockdale Civic Association.

"This is one of those hot issues that some of the citizens of the county are divided upon," Nesbitt said. "I believe that when we think about the safety of our public safety personnel first and the response to our citizens when they pick up the phone and dial 911, that they will have a system agile enough to respond to their needs."

Oden agreed. He said the project was well researched and all sides were heard.

"The members of the Citizens Oversight Committee answered every question that was posed by the leading opposition in terms of this process and in terms of the selection of this particular vendor in moving forward," he said. "The process was transparent, contrary to what some say who do not want to move forward."