By Mike Steely
It’s not quite back to square one for a new radio system for the Knox County Emergency Communications District, but the board has voted to delay a final decision on the proposed $ 9 million contract bid from Harris Corp while more information about joining the Tennessee Valley Regional Communications System is sought.
The board’s first action Friday morning, led by Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett, was to officially elect Linda Murawski as chair. She had been selected by personnel committee chairman Bill Cole back in January and had served as chair without an open vote.
The board then turned to the lack of a vote in their January meeting on a new radio contract that would allow all the emergency responders to communicate with each other. Harris Corp had been recommended but, in the January meeting, the motion to award the contract died for the lack of a second to the motion.
Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero stated, “My job today is to vote on this contract.”
Knox County Sheriff J.J. Jones led the opposition to the Harris Corp bid and said that accused violations of the “Sunshine Law” were unjust, adding that he and City Police Chief David Rausch talk together daily about public safety issues. Sheriff Jones said the users of a future radio system were left out of the process and there are problems with the Harris Corp system.
Greg Farmer, regional sales manager for Harris, said the firm has deployed more than 100 radio systems in the U.S. and Canada and said that problems with the system in Miami-Dade County, Fl., have been resolved. He also said that a lawsuit by Las Vegas involves a system that the city had already been using at the time of the Harris Company acquisition.
The discussion shifted when board member Bill Cole suggested the Knox E911 system could save a considerable amount of money by joining the TVRS system with or without an additional Harris Corp Systems contract. Farmer countered by saying that the proposed P25 digital radios would be required for the system and that the local E911 system may not be given priority over other jurisdictions using the regional system.
Jones suggested that the local emergency system could join TVRS without the Harris agreement.
Board attorney Don Howell said the board had two options: approve the contract and go with the TVRS system or withhold action on the contract and get information from TVRS on joining.
County Commission Chairman Brad Anders, also a board member, moved to delay a vote on the contract and authorize the board’s User Committee to explore the cost effectiveness of TVRS membership.
Mayor Burchett seconded the motions saying the board might regret “going down the wrong path” without looking at other options. The board voted unanimously to postpone action on the contract agreement and look into the TVRS system.
Mayor Rogero, who had questioned Sheriff Jones and Coles during the meeting, noted that the Harris contract agreement will “still be on the agenda” at the next meeting on April 15th.
The Harris representative requested permission to attend whenever the User Committee meets with TVRS but the board attorney recommended that meeting should be “confined” to the User Committee.