Gonzales County commissioners voted 3-2 Monday, May 9, to pay up to $1.8 million for handheld and mobile radios for the county’s first responders, but not before things got testy between members of the court and the public.
The county will give each entity (police departments, fire departments, EMS and the Gonzales County Sheriff’s Department) an amount of money to purchase handhelds and mobiles, based upon requests those entities already submitted to Gonzales County Emergency Management coordinator Jimmy Harless.
The money is coming from American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) funds the county has received from the federal government.
The amount of money will be based on a bid tendered by Motorola and Victoria Communications Systems (VCS) to supply 131 Motorola APX 8500 mobile units at $6,893.95 each and 151 Motorola APX 800 XE handhelds at $6,930.11 each
Two weeks ago, Harless presented the entities’ requests to commissioners, who also heard from Motorola/VCS as well as representatives from LCRA/L3Harris about their respective bids. At that time, the court tabled action until the May 9 meeting to be able to study everything.
Precinct 3 Commissioner Kevin La Fleur said Monday he had received advice from Jim Allison of Allison Bass & Associates, a law firm which helps Texas counties, that “we don’t want, besides county entities, we do not want to be responsible for inventory for other entities.”
“He recommended we enter into an interlocal agreement with each entity before we give them case and in that agreement, it will state it has to be used for cash or other public safety equipment,” La Fleur said, with County Auditor Becky Weston noting the money could not be used towards any debt retirement, pending litigation or any salary reimbursement.
“What you’re saying is they use the money for radios first, and if they have anything left over, they can use it for safety equipment, but the county would not have to be responsible for any inventory,” Precinct 2 Commissioner Donnie Brzozowski said.
County Judge Pat Davis said he thought it made sense to go with the Motorola bid or use it for pricing, especially as he saw some advantages to what Motorola and VCS were offering.
“You’re looking at a three-year warranty versus a two and a 100-watt radio versus a 50,” Davis said. “(L3Harris) doesn’t even make a 100-watt radio. To me, it’s just a no-brainer.”
Reminded by a member of the audience that Waelder and Gonzales had already purchased their own Motorola radios, Davis noted, “We will reimburse them since they have paid their radios and we're buying radios for anybody else. I'm not gonna let them be on their own. And I know that the chief of police here in Gonzales said they didn’t even come because they already put Motorola into theirs and they don’t even want to talk about it.”
Nixon City Councilmember Justin La Fleur, who is also Kevin La Fleur’s son, wanted to be recognized to speak as he has been part of a contingent from Nixon that has been wanting the county to go with L3Harris. Davis appeared to be frustrated by the younger La Fleur’s insistence on joining the conversation.
“Nixon has been here every time. We’ve never had a Waelder person. We've never had a Gonzales person. We’ve never had anyone here other than Nixon,” Davis said. “And I know we had a city councilman from Nixon contact everybody on our grant. Our grant!
“Now we have beat this horse, we have beat this horse to death. I don’t know what else. How much more beating do you want to do on it?”
At this point, Precinct 1 Commissioner Dell Whiddon said he agreed with Davis and he thinks all of the entities “need to get whatever kind of radios they want. Whichever ones use it, let them get whatever one they want to use.”
“It’s not that simple, commissioner,” Weston responded. “Give me some more guidelines, like if I have to issue checks for them or you are going to purchase radios. I agree. This has been going on and they still need radios. They needed them a long time ago.
“I originally thought the court was only talking handhelds. I didn’t realize they were also going into mobiles. I don’t know that we have enough money today for all of them. But figure out the cost and everyone gets the same amount of money times however many numbers they turned into Jimmy.
“Pass this interlocal, we go write them a check, they can buy whatever radio they want and y’all are out of the discussion,” Weston added. “Obviously, we're gonna buy whatever our county wants for our county, but if (some other entity) wanted to buy Motorola or GE or whoever, they have the option of doing that, but come up with the dollar amount and what type of radio.
“So when they come back with an interlocal agreement that I think the county attorney needs to take a look at, if that's the route, then we go from there and put it on the agenda, so I can issue the checks and these agencies can move forward.”
Justin LaFleur again tried to get recognized to speak, but Davis said, “I’ve heard enough from Nixon. When your dad wants to call on you, I’ll let him call on you.”
“No, you’re supposed to,” Justin La Fleur said. “You can’t deny me that. That’s a violation of the Open Meetings Act.”
“I said he can call on you,” Davis responded. “I didn’t deny you anything. It’s up to your father to call on you.”
“You let everyone else speak but me,” Justin La Fleur said. “(County Attorney) Paul (Watkins) knows that too. Tell him, Paul.”
“I don’t answer to you,” Watkins told him flatly, to which the elder La Fleur said, “Paul, you’re wrong.”
“If you want to call on him, call on him,” Davis told the elder La Fleur.
“No, make him (call on me),” the younger La Fleur said to his father.
“Judge, it’s your call,” Kevin La Fleur said.
“Nobody makes me do anything,” Davis said. “If you want to hear from him, this is all our board together as a whole, so y’all have at it.”
Whiddon and Davis reminded the court there was a motion on the floor and Kevin La Fleur said he thought the court still needed to “have a sitdown and find out how many radios we need,” to which Davis took exception.
“We got that in the last time,” Davis said. “It was presented to the court. You asked for it. You got it. And now we don’t want to vote on it? Every department gave you what they wanted. It was here last time, two weeks ago, before the court, and it was there. That's what you asked for. You got it. And then we tabled it.”
Davis then seconded the motion himself and called for a vote. He, Whiddon and Precinct 4 Commissioner Collie Boatright Jr. voted in favor of the motion, while Kevin La Fleur and Brzozowski voted against it.