LMPD :: Louisville Metro Police Department

City knew radio bid faced pitfall, Warning preceded single, pricey offer


When Louisville got only one bid for the third phase of its MetroSafe emergency communications system in May -- at $59 million, twice the estimated cost -- the city's top emergency official said he was disappointed.

But he shouldn't have been surprised, according to records obtained by The Courier-Journal. Months before Doug Hamilton's Metro Emergency Management Agency sought bids on the first phase of MetroSafe, one potential bidder told him that the planned specifications were so limited that only one radio vendor, Motorola, would be able to bid.

The October 2004 letter from M/A-COM also warned that the city was locking itself into a communications system that would limit future phases of the project to Motorola products.

"Purchasing a system in this manner is not in the best interest of the taxpayers of Louisville Metro, who will in all likelihood wind up paying considerably more for older technology," the letter said.

MetroSafe is designed to connect all the city's emergency responders on one wireless communications network. The city expected to spend $70 million on the whole system.

Hoping to stay within that budget, the city now is seeking new bids on the third phase. Hamilton said the specifications have been changed to encourage more bidders.

In addition to traditional radio communications, MetroSafe eventually will let police, fire and EMS transmit computer data over the airwaves. The city's police department now uses two radio systems that predate the merger of Louisville and Jefferson County and don't easily allow all officers to communicate with each other.

Hamilton said Thursday that he still believes the city made the right decision when seeking bids on the first phase of work in 2004 -- asking for a system that used what he said was the best technology available.

But Ken Fleming, the Republican chairman of the Metro Council's contracts committee, said that in hindsight, the city should have written the specifications differently.

"It should be the government's responsibility to write specs wide enough to promote competition," he said.

Companies that didn't have the specific technology being sought should have had the chance to come up with an alternative system that would meet the city's needs.

"Let them come up with solutions," Fleming said. "Write things broadly enough to encourage creativity and innovation."

Motorola sole bidder

Despite the concerns raised by M/A-COM, Louisville stayed the course and Motorola submitted the sole bid on the first phase of the project -- and won it for $7.7 million, which was in line with the city's estimates for that part of MetroSafe.

The second phase of MetroSafe was the purchase and installation of computer-aided dispatching software that better tracks emergency vehicles and allows the closest available emergency workers to respond to calls for help.

Another company won that contract; neither M/A-COM nor Motorola bid on that work


When the city sought bids for the much larger third phase of the project earlier this year -- a project that officials had expected would cost about $30 million -- Motorola was again the sole bidder with a $59 million proposal.

Joe Gordon, Motorola's sales manager on the project, said that the bid was reasonably priced "based on the specifications," but that the company could design a less expensive system to meet the city's needs.

Louisville Metro Government rejected the $59 million bid and last week officially restarted the bidding process for the third phase, which will include building radio towers and installing equipment in the city's primary dispatch center.

Interested companies have until Oct. 3 to submit bids, and Hamilton said the city would probably take two or three months to study the proposals before accepting one.

He said changes in the bid request should reduce the cost, in part because it is written in a way to let companies recommend the technology they think would work best.

Plus, M/A-COM now offers the technology the city wanted when it sought bids for the first phase of the MetroSafe program more than two years ago.

M/A-COM and Motorola are by far the country's largest suppliers of the emergency communication equipment needed for the MetroSafe project, and both have expertise installing large emergency communications networks.

John Facella, M/A-COM's director of public safety markets, said Motorola controls about 80 percent of the market, while his firm has most of the rest.

He said his company will decide whether to bid on Phase III after reviewing the city's "request for proposal."

Complaint of bias

In its October 2004 letter and other communications about MetroSafe, M/A-COM complained that Federal Engineering, a consulting subcontractor on the project, is biased toward Motorola.

In e-mails to Public Protection Cabinet Secretary Kim Allen and Jim McGovern, an aide to Metro Mayor Jerry Abramson, Mary Ellen Horner, a lobbyist for M/A-COM, wrote that company officials couldn't think of a single project that Federal had been involved in that was awarded to M/A-COM.

Ron Bosco, president of Federal Engineering, was out of the country last week and didn't return two e-mails seeking comment.

Hamilton said city officials studied their options on MetroSafe for months before approving the Phase I bid. In addition to consultants like Federal, he said, city leaders talked to officials in other cities that had installed similar systems and came to believe a "trunked" radio system that allowed numerous conversations to occur on the same channel simultaneously was the right way to go.

Motorola was the only company to offer the "trunked" system that met other specifications required by the federal government when it gave the city millions in grant money, he said.

The city's Office of Internal Audit investigated issues raised in the October 2004 letter and the next month issued an opinion that city officials had followed proper procedures in putting the project out for bid.