Gonzales County commissioners voted unanimously Monday, Sept. 26, to approve an interlocal agreement (ILA) with the city of Nixon that provides an additional $48,687.03 in American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) funds to purchase mobile and handheld radios, but not before engaging in a spirited argument about the price difference.
Gonzales County officials had previously approved using ARPA funds to purchase long-needed radios for all first responders in the county and had Emergency Management Coordinator Jimmy Harless get purchasing quotes from Victoria Communication Systems, the area’s Motorola dealer, and from the Lower Colorado River Authority, which uses L3 Harris radios.
The only city which exclusively went with L3 Harris radios was Nixon, whose leadership had been vocal about their own concerns with buying the Motorola equipment.
Originally, the commissioners were going to limit spending on handheld radios to $7,000 per unit, but that limit was later rescinded by the court.
On Monday, County Judge Pat Davis pointedly asked County Auditor Becky Weston and Nixon City Manager Harold Rice both about the difference in pricing as Davis said he was led to believe Nixon would need $292,063.52, based on the quantity of radios requested and the pricing obtained by Harless. Instead, the city this month submitted an ILA and a request for $340,750.55.
“All the other entities in the county were good with our purchasing procurements. However, Nixon was the only entity in Gonzales County that was not good with the way we received our radios,” Davis said.
“What is the reasoning for being $50,000 more than what was initially given?” Davis asked. “I'm just curious where this $50,000 came from, from the bid here to the bid now. Can anybody answer that?”
“We went out for quotes and we picked the radio that was being submitted to NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) for testing, as a better radio for the city of Nixon,” Rice said. “That radio cost more than the original radio and we were told we weren’t stuck with a $7,000 cap and none of the other entities put in for that amount.”
Weston said the process Harless went through as “informal” and noted that the ILAs submitted by other entities may have shown the same number of quantities of radios as previously anticipated, but “the dollar amounts, basically, went out the window because the court approved to not put a per unit price on it.”
Davis appeared to take exception to the statement by Weston that pricing “went out the window.”
“I’m just going to speak for Commissioner Brzozowski when he said ‘We need to be good stewards of county tax dollars.’” Davis said. “You said ‘we need to be good stewards of the county's tax dollars that are spent throughout the county, so we need to make sure that we spend this money wisely.’ You said that about three or four weeks or about a month ago.”
“You’re speaking for me?” Brzozowski said. “I can’t believe you’re quoting me, judge. I’m shocked.”
“I don't have any problem paying the $292,063 that was initially initially put there, but I do have a problem with going over forty-something thousand because Nixon wanted to do their own,” Davis added. “Everybody else in the county did not have any problem with our bidding process, except for Nixon. And I mean, it's your vote what you want to do about it, but I don't agree to go over for the $48,000. And it looks to be the same exact radios.”
“No, sir, it's not exact same radio,” Rice responded, noting the pricing given to the county was originally for the 200 series radio and Nixon chose instead to purchase the 400 series. “They are different radios, sir.”
Davis said he found it “intriguing that on 8/25/22 … the auditor already knew that Nixon PD and Fire Department’s approximate ILA would be $352,000. I had no idea about it. Who gave you that? Who told you?”
When Rice and Weston both said she had asked for pricing for budgetary purposes, Davis again noted “but you didn’t send anything to the court.”
“So you are basically asking Gonzales County Commissioners Court to open up our wallets, give you a blank check to go above and beyond what we give to everyone else,” Davis told Rice. “I don’t have a problem giving the $292,000 but I think Nixon ought to come up with the rest of it because we have Chief Crow that’s sitting in here where he was cut six different radios on an invoice that was actually submitted.”
Gonzales Police Chief Tim Crow confirmed to the court that six radios he had asked for on his ILA dated May 13 “were not funded” and were denied by Weston, who had him sign a different ILA instead. Three of those radios are needed to help provide backup dispatching for the county, while Crow said he could wait on the other three until the next budgetary year. The cost of those radios would be about $47,000, Crow said.
“You actually changed his ILA but you never contacted me about it,” Davis told Weston. “I know that on the other ILAs, you went over a lot of the other ILAs and you actually changed some of those ILAs without even talking to any person who signed it, correct?” Davis asked.
“No, I did talk to some of the people that signed it,” Weston said.
“You didn’t talk to me about it,” Davis said.
Brzozowski asked Rice to tell him why they chose a different radio.
“Tell me about why we went up on your radios — we went from a 200 series to 400 series. Tell us why we did that?” Brzozowski asked
“It's a fire rated radio that's being tested right now by the NFPA. We felt that that was the best radio for our fire department,” Rice said. “We wanted to go through our own RFP so we follow all state procurement laws. That's what we wanted to do so we can protect ourselves, and I don’t care what Gonzales did or anybody else.”
Precinct 4 Commissioner Collie Boatright asked representatives from Motorola and Harris if they provided the county with bids. The Motorola rep said his company “provided pricing based on a (Texas) DIR contract, which is an accepted procurement method in the state of Texas.”
Texas DIR is the Texas Department of Information Resources, which maintains a streamlined cooperative purchasing program for state and local governments. Counties do not have to advertise for bids for certain products and services that they procure through DIR.
The LCRA/L3 Harris rep stated they “provided pricing, based on an ILA, to Gonzales County for three different radios.”
Commissioners agreed they will need to address the radios that were not purchased for Gonzales Police Department at a later date, since it was not part of the agenda. Once some corrections were made to the ILA for Nixon as requested by the court, they did approve the full $340,750.55 for Nixon.