Supervisor alleges bias against Motorola in 911 communications system process

Debate about legal costs surrounding a new radio system for first responders drew questions from Mahaska County Supervisor Mark Groenendyk.

Emergency radio. (file photo)

By Charlie Comfort

Oskaloosa, Iowa- Bias exists in the process for purchasing a new 911 system, according to one Mahaska County Supervisor. At the September 30 Mahaska County Supervisors meeting, Supervisor Mark Groenendyk accused Mahaska County EMA/E911 Director Jamey Robinson of being personally biased against Motorola and not allowing the company to compete for a new radio communications system in Mahaska County. The allegation was lodged during a discussion on whether or not the supervisors should proceed with contacting Motorola to encourage them to submit a bid for the new system.

During the discussion on the item, Groenendyk presented a letter from a Motorola representative, who stated that a letter had been delivered to EMA Director Jamey Robinson in August, which stated that Motorola would not submit a bid as the RFP requested but did have interest in submitting a bid to join the state ISICS system. Groenendyk said that the representative told him that the company was “zero for five” in working with the Elert, the consultant the Board of Supervisors has hired to work with the purchase of a new communications system. Groenendyk said that the option of joining the state system through Motorola needs to be considered, despite the fact that Motorola did not submit a bid.

“I think for the taxpayers, I think they would like to know what the other side has to offer,” Groenendyk said.

EMA/E911 director Jamey Robinson expressed concerns with requesting a bid, as the bid may not match up to the specifications laid out in the RFP.

“That’s why we did an RFP so it laid it out, this is what we want, and then you build the system off those specifications. If we just go to a vendor now and say give us a bid of what it costs to get on the system, it may not be apples to apples. We may be talking apples and bologna,” Robinson said.

Groenendyk countered that the letter from Motorola would have been helpful to know about during the bid acceptance process.

“If we’d known this in August, we could of done this a month ago,” he said.

Groenendyk suggested that the bid from Raycom be set aside for the time being.

“I would suggest putting it in a sealed envelope and leaving it with the auditor. So, we know we’ve got one bid on file, then we got the other one, nothing’s been modified, we know that for certain, it’s fair for the taxpayers, everything’s been sealed until then,” he said.

Mahaska County Sheriff Russ Van Renterghem expressed his belief that seeking out a bid from Motorola could result in further legal challenges for the county.

“I would think we would be opening ourselves up to a lot of liability if we go outside the deadlines… I think we’re opening ourselves up to a lot of liability; we’re accepting bids outside the deadline of the RFP,” he said.

Groenendyk disagreed, saying he did not think the county would be opened up to liability. He also said that if a bid was sought out from Motorola, they would compare both the state RFP and Mahaska County RFP and “try to build a system” based on those.

“The only difference is they want to go through the County because the consultant the EMA hired is biased towards Raycom,” Groenendyk said.

Groenendyk’s statement prompted a terse response from Van Rentergham.

“First of all, Elert was not hired by the EMA. They were hired by the Board of Supervisors initially,” he said.

Elert and Associates were unanimously approved to be the consultant for a new emergency communications system at the April 4, 2016, Mahaska County Supervisors meeting. Willie Van Weelden, Mark Doland, and Mike Vander Molen were the three county supervisors at that time.

Groenendyk went on to say that the idea of partnering with Motorola came from former supervisor Mike Vander Molen, who Groenendyk succeeded in office.

“He’s the one that said ‘well, nobody’s looked at Motorola.’ He’s the one that first introduced me to a different situation we talked about in January 2017,” he said.

Groenendyk added that after a meeting between him, Van Renterghem, Oskaloosa Police Chief Jake McGee and Marion County Sheriff Jason Sandholt, he began looking at the Motorola option more seriously. He also said that Van Renterghem and McGee had stated after the meeting that the Motorola system was “different than what Jamey has said about this system,” something Van Renterghem stated he did not remember saying. Groenendyk also added that he believes the RFP is biased against Motorola, which he says has weeded them out from the beginning.

“Let’s look at Motorola’s standpoint. I think they are well aware of the biasness we’ve had in our county in dealing with the EMA manager,” he said. “You think Motorola’s not aware of the biasness here?” he also said.

Groenendyk also recounted a conversation he had with Senator Ken Rozenboom in February 2017.

“Senator Rozenboom came up to me and said ‘say, who’s Motorola got to get ahold of in this county, they’ve been trying Jamey Robinson for months and can’t get nobody to return a call,” he said.

Rozenboom confirmed in a phone call on October 1 that the conversation between him and Groenendyk was accurate.

“It’s accurate in this sense: about that time, I was approached in Des Moines… It was probably a lobbyist I’m guessing, [who] expressed some disappointment that they hadn’t been able to make contact with anybody in Mahaska County for a tower or a system,” Rozenboom said. “At some point subsequent to that, I asked someone again if they’d ever talked to Motorola, and the response I got was ‘well, no wonder Motorola hasn’t been involved, nobody from Mahaska County ever wants to talk to those folks,’” he added.

Rozenboom added, however, that his intent in approaching Groenendyk was not to air grievances, but was rather to facilitate communication between the Supervisors and Mahaska County EMA/911 over a new communications system.

“My whole approach has been to encourage local people to work together to find a common solution rather than fight it out all the time, which apparently nobody heeded my advice,” he said. “I can’t stress that loud enough… That’s the role I tried to play when asked,” he added.

Van Renterghem responded to Groenendyk’s claims about Robinson by asking if he ever addressed the EMA commission regarding it.

“You’re bringing up these side issues, almost all of them directed at Jamey. Have you brought any of these issues before the EMA board? In March of last year did you put on the agenda to discuss Jamey’s performance and then in a meeting ask him, in front of the board, ‘why haven’t you returned the calls from this person? Why haven’t you done this? Why haven’t you done that?” he asked.

Groenendyk said he did not bring up the issue at all because he was focused on “who really has the authority to do this”.

“I’ve brought a lot of that stuff to the EMA and I’ve gotten no answers,” he said.

Van Renterghem closed out his comments by again stating his belief that the county was opening itself up to liability by proceeding forward in asking Motorola to submit a bid.

“Which liability would it be?” Groenendyk asked.

“Raycom suing us because they followed the rules. They submitted a bid by the time the deadline was here,” Van Renterghem responded.

Prior to voting, Supervisor Steve Wanders asked why the County can’t utilize the state RFP in asking Motorola for a bid.

“The state RFP is built at a different level for the statewide system, so to make it more for Mahaska County we need to build something with our specifications,” Robinson said in responding to Wander’s question.

“See that don’t make sense for me because if it’s good enough for the state of Iowa, why is it not good enough for Mahaska County?” Wanders asked.

Van Renterghem responded to Wanders’ question, saying that a local study was done on the radio system, which identified areas where communication was troublesome for authorities, something the state RFP would not cover.

“I am assuming the state ISCIS board didn’t come into Mahaska County and do a study on our blind areas or our problem areas. One was done prior to this RFP, just Mahaska County,” Van Rentergham said.

Wanders also expressed his personal preference for a new radio system, stating he would be in favor of Motorola building a new communications system in Mahaska County. Wanders presented documents from an August Des Moines City Council meeting in which the Des Moines City Council voted to utilize a Motorola/state system for the City.

“One point that really struck home to me is that by going down this road, they’re really helping highway patrol because they’re adding towers for highway patrol to use. So, in all these communications of working together, don’t we want to help our highway patrol or other safety people out there? We can always add three more towers to a Motorola deal?” he said.

A Raycom representative responded to Wanders, saying that a new Raycom system could do exactly what he had stated.

“We have full interconnectivity to the ISICS (state) system. So, we design a system that’s best for Mahaska County with 100 percent interconnectivity to ISICS,” they said.

“Motorola won all but one and that was the cost. I’m not gonna say no more,” Wanders responded.

Prior to voting, Supervisor Chairman Willie Van Weelden questioned if the matter should be tabled until County Attorney Jim Blomgren could assess if the Supervisors would be putting the County at risk of liability. Groenendyk said that would not be necessary.

“I’ve asked some other legal counsel and they said as long as it’s in the RFP that you’re not bound to any bids or offers, there is no liability,” he said.

Ultimately, the Supervisors unanimously approved a motion to contact Motorola to submit a communications proposal to join ISICS.

The board also again addressed the issuing of TIF in the Prairie Wind Urban Renewal Area. This issue had come up in early September, as parents and faculty of the North Mahaska School District encouraged the Supervisors to not TIF any monies generated from the wind turbines near New Sharon, saying the North Mahaska School District sorely needed the money. Groenendyk said that the Supervisors had met with officials with the North Mahaska School District and said that the County did not have a desire to TIF the wind turbines fully. Groenendyk said that TIF would be phased in in five percent increments. He also added that the plan can be amended annually to increase or lower TIFs. He added that the board would continue to stay in contact with the North Mahaska School District. The board ultimately approved the first reading of an ordinance providing for TIF in the Prairie Wind Urban Renewal Area unanimously.

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Posted by on Oct 3 2018. Filed under Local News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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