Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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$18 mil Proposed Public Safety Communications Upgrade: Not Worth the Paper It's Written On


COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – The infamous County 5, The 5, is putting a new chapter in its book of legendary backroom dealing as it moves ahead considering replacement of its antiquated VHF Public Safety Radio Communications System at a proposed cost of $18,000,000. The 5's duplicitous Request for Qualifications had one responder. This appears not to have been an accident.

Since the Observer's last article, The 5 Barrel Ahead: Ignore Potential $5-$10 Mil Savings On $18,000,000 Communications System, more information about the project has come to light.

Click for full page.

The County's classified advertisement of the project ran only in one Newspaper, the Lake City Reporter, whose circulation is limited to Lake City and Columbia County.

The ad ran on two consecutive Wednesdays, and was virtually indistinguishable from any other classified ad.

The Request was not put in any trade publication or on Demand Star, the national source for government bid proposals.

  Click to enlarge

Industry sources told the Observer that there would have been other bidders had the Request for Qualifications (RFQ) been an honest indication of what the County was requesting. The title of the RFQ: Solicitation of Qualifications for Engineering Services Associated with the Detention Facility Communications Tower, was not only disingenuous, it was false.

The RFQ's scope of services is clear and unambiguous:

A. The Consultant will determine, with the assistance of the County, the current condition of the communications tower and 1) if it can be repaired or 2) if the tower needs to be replaced. If the tower needs replacement, the consultant will determine the desired location for the replacement tower that optimizes the coverage area and is best suited for the 5 remote sites to communicate. This task will include reviewing propagation studies and any geotechnical studies to determine the optimal site.

B. The Consultant will advise the County on the requirements for the communications tower to support existing communications equipment as well as the potential future needs of the County including 800 MHz and/or cellular equipment. The scope of services consists of the advising and the project management of the repair of the existing tower or erecting of a new tower in compliance with FAA Circulars. 47 CFR §§ 17.21-17.58
 (emphasis added by the Observer)

The County's RFQ required questions to be submitted in writing 7 days before the bid opening. If an interested party came across the ad on June 19th, the second time it ran, there would have been no time for the submission of questions, as the bid opening was on June 26th.

The "Scope of Services"

A scope of services has four components: 1. Services that will be performed for the agreed-to fee; 2. Services that can be performed for an additional fee; 3. Services that will not be performed; 4. Services that will be performed by a third party.

The County's Back Room Boys Swing Into Action

On June 26, 2013, bids were opened for the Detention Facility Communications Engineering Services. There was only one response.

On July 18, 2013, buried in the Consent Agenda, was item no. 15, "Central Communications – Detention Center Tower Evaluation – Request to Negotiate Contract with RCC Consultants, Inc."

Your reporter called for an explanation. The County Manager explained, "... there was only one response to the RFP."

In fact, the County did not request an RFP, Request for Proposals, it requested a Request for Qualifications, which allowed the County to do an end run around the state procurement law.

Clay County: 10 responses for a similar system and consultant

Recently, Clay County put out a RFP for an upgrade of its radio system. They were looking for a consultant to manage the project for what is anticipated to be a $10,000,000 plus upgrade. A system very similar to one The 5 are looking to build. There were nine responses plus RCC's. Clay County was looking for a consultant to design and manage the project, not build it.

County Manager Williams explained to The 5 the reason for only one response to what was soon to morph into a one-bid project design/management contract for an estimated $18,000,000 project.

He said receiving one bid "was a little unusual, unless you understand that this is the contract, or this was the invitation where the Board said -- if you bid, or if you propose, and you're selected, you will not be able to bid on the work itself."

It appears the folks in Clay County didn't understand this as ten engineering consultants bid on the design/management of the Clay County 800 Mhz project.

Columbia County did notify folks on its bid list about the so called tower project. They were painting companies; roofers; the Red Cross; and a toner company, to name a few.

The Columbia County bid packet was downloaded by 40 unique requestors, although some of them were from the same companies. Only one engineering firm that responded to Clay County responded to the Columbia Co. RFQ – RCC Consultants.

On July 18, 2013, CM Williams told The 5, "We received numerous calls from people or companies who said look – I don't want you to think that we're ignoring you, but we are more interested in doing the work, than doing the study and review. So I do not find that it's out of line at all that we only received this one proposal."

In Clay County RCC bid $127,620 dollars to design, manage, and consult on their project.

In Columbia County RCC is already up to $50k plus for what was supposed to the Detention Facility Tower Study and Replacement.

Where Is the Money Coming From?

To date, The 5 has used the Columbia County Bucket Economic Model to pay the fees and expenses for the proposed project: Pile taxpayer money into buckets (funds) and remove the money helter-skelter when one feels like it. This avoids both the troublesome problem of actually having to account to the tax payers and the process of developing actual budgets which show real and anticipated itemized expenses.

The 5 is clueless about the financing of the project. The County Manager has explained that he doesn't know where the money is going to come from. The 5 and the County Manager during conversations at public meetings agree that the County will go into debt for a long time if this $18,000,000 project is implemented.

RCC Contract Approved

On August 1, 2013, the County minutes reflect The 5 approved the contract with RCC Consultants: "Needs Assessment for the Communications Tower at the Detention Facility - $52,000." The item was not in the budget. The minutes do not reflect any discussion.

On August 12, 2013, The 5 held a budget workshop. The minutes do not reflect any conversation about the looming $18,000,000 Public Safety Communications Project.

On November 21, 2013, the County minutes tell this story:

Representatives of RCC Consulting, Inc. gave a presentation relating to the history and the progress of this radio project. Sheriff Hunter offered input. There was discussion among the commissioners.

MOTION by Commissioner Williams for staff to enter into preliminary negotiations with RCC and present proposals to the Board. Second by Commissioner Nash. The motion carried unanimously.

Neither the motion nor the minutes reflect the nature of the negotiations.

The Observer learned RCC's PowerPoint presentation had the slides removed showing the cost of the project, now clearly approaching the $18,000,000 mark.

Then, at the December 19, 2013 meeting of The County 5, the minutes reflect this story: "On November 13, 2013 [November 21, 2013] the Board authorized RCC Consulting to negotiate with Motorola Solutions for the purpose of determining what the cost would be for an 800 MHz Communication System. He [County Manager] reviewed the history beyond that date."

County Manager Williams, for the first time mentioned what most insiders and The 5 already knew, "The project will cost at least $18,500,000."

The County still did not have any strategies for financing the $18,500,000.

Commissioner Stephen Bailey, according to the County minutes, made this motion: "to proceed with executing the contract with Motorola by December 31, 2013, in order to preserve the negotiated price of $18,500,000."

Long time County Attorney Marlin Feagle balked and told The 5 he could not support the motion.

The minutes then relate Commissioner Bailey's feelings, "Commissioner Bailey felt it would be possible to modify the language in the contract to reserve the pricing, yet leave an “out” for the county if it was decided that the 800 MHz system would not be purchased."

The 5 do not and have never followed any rules of parliamentary procedure and eventually Mr. Bailey's $18,500,000 motion failed.

Harris/Williams Communications

On December 23, 2013, Williams Communications wrote to Columbia County. The letter included an article which began:

"A year ago the Palm Beach Office of the Inspector General released a report critical of the Palm Beach County Board of Commissioners for the sole source purchase for radio system replacement from Motorola on the recommendation from their consultant RCC Consultants. Now Coral Springs stands ready to make this same mistake on the advice of the same consultant ..."

Ken Williams, the president of Williams Communications wrote, "We believe that we can provide a better solution at a lower price and would welcome the opportunity to compete for your business."

The County Manager advised Mr. Williams he would distribute the letter. If he did, The 5 have remained silent in public, however, the main arena of the County 5 has traditionally been behind closed doors.

On March 5, 2014, Motorola's Stacy Chick sent an email to each of the Commissioners, the Sheriff and the County Manager, lobbying them and bad mouthing the Florida State Law Enforcement Radio System (SLERS), the Harris Corporation and its representative Adam Black, a former law enforcement officer.

Motorola's Chick took offense that Harris's Black told The 5 that he had a solution that could save the County taxpayers millions. Ms. Chick wrote, "... my grandmother could claim to save Columbia County "millions of dollars".

Two weeks ago it was pointed out by a member of the County Staff that the Sheriff didn't believe in leasing tower space. It appears the County recently had a change of heart and discovered that leasing might not be such a bad idea and would save the County money.

The Harris Solution: Pubic Safety and Affordability

At last Thursday's County Commission meeting, Harris Communications made a presentation to The 5 that demonstrated where the County could save approximately $10,000,000; have a public safety radio system that worked; would provide the County with top of the line multiband radios that are 800 MHz compatible with a P25 system, the system the County has decided in the backroom that it must have; and would within about three years provide a cost free upgrade to a P25 800 Mhz system.

It is the same system that the Florida Highway Patrol now uses throughout the entire State of Florida.

None of The 5 showed any interest. Commissioner Stephen Bailey was openly hostile to the idea. Long time County Commissioner and Board Chair, Ronald Williams, claimed once again that he knew nothing about something important to Columbia County. He gave as a reason for non-consideration of the Harris plan that the Sheriff didn't mention the system to him. Chairman Williams said he was afraid of a "debasco" if he didn't listen to the Sheriff.


In the land of Florida's infamous County 5, it is backroom helter-skelter business as usual.

The multiyear, multimillion dollar fiasco of The 5's Bascom Norris Bypass to nowhere only squandered millions, gave away a fortune, and ruined reputations as it drags on forever.

The 5's incessant foot dragging on the upgrading of its Public Safety Communications System, which has been held together by bubble gum and shoe laces may eventually cost somebody's life or lives.

Early this morning, Harris's Adam Black told the Observer, "We intend to provide Columbia County with a proposal providing we receive cooperation and access from them."

The Columbia County 5 from left to right: Chairman Ronald Williams;
Commissioners Rusty DePratter; Bucky Nash; Stephen Bailey; Scarlet Frisina
Note: Commissioner Williams and County Manager Williams were absent.


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On March 20, 2014, Harris Corporation made a presentation to The 5.

After learning of a possible $10,000,000 savings, The 5 blew Harris off.

The following slides are from the Harris presentation.