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911 Board delays bid opening for new system

By Brad Hicks

Concerns over the notification time given for the May 15 meeting of the Unicoi County Emergency Communications District Board, have delayed the opening of bids for a new computer-aided dispatch system for the county’s 911 center.

The board was set to open bids for a new computer-aided dispatch, or CAD, system during its Monday, May 15, meeting, but board Chairman Bill Hensley and Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch expressed concerns that the opening of bids and a move to accept one of the cost proposals could open the board up to complaints, as officials may be unable to verify the legally-required five-day notice was provided ahead of the meeting.

“We can’t verify if we’re OK as far as our notice on this meeting,” Lynch said.

To prevent any complaint from going further, Hensley said the board may need to prove all the necessary parties, including bidders, were given proper notification of the meeting. Although the bid deadline was specified in media advertisements announcing the board was seeking bids for the CAD system, Hensley said there may be some question as to whether the meeting at which the bids were to be opened was notified.

Because of these concerns, Hensley recommended that the board hold off on opening the bids until next month. He suggested that emails notifying the board’s June meeting be sent to all involved, as well as local media, to serve as proof that proper notification was given.

A motion made by board member and Unicoi Volunteer Fire Department Chief Robert Adams to that effect was unanimously approved by the board.

The board will meet in regular session on June 19 at 3 p.m. at which time the submitted bids are set to be opened.

The need for a new CAD system has been a topic of discussion for several months. During the Emergency Communications District Board’s January meeting, Hensley appointed Adams and Unicoi County 911 Director Travis Chandler to research possible replacement systems. During its March meeting, the board voted to put out a request for proposal to obtain bids from companies interested in providing a new system.

Adams said in March that Unicoi County 911 is experiencing compatibility issues with its current CAD system, adding the system was outdated when it was purchased several years ago when the local 911 center was relocated to the county’s Jail Annex. He said only one other district in the state uses the same system as Unicoi County.

The radio problems that officials say have persisted since the county’s 911 center was moved to the Unicoi County Jail Annex were also discussed during the May 15 meeting. Both Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley and Erwin Police Chief Regan Tilson said local law enforcement’s receipt of emergency traffic continues to be a serious issue.

Adams said technician Todd Malone with PS Kustoms has already looked at the system and advised issues exist with the microwave system which operates between the communications tower and the 911 center. Adams also said the radio equipment is in a box under the tower and may need to be moved indoors.

There was some discussion of replacing the microwave system through the use of a conduit that would link the tower directly to the dispatch center.

Tilson moved that Adams and Chandler contact Malone to “get this radio situation analyzed and, at a minimum, get the microwave system out of there until we can move forward with secure, good communications.” The motion was approved unanimously by the board.

The board also moved to eliminate future compensatory time among county 911 employees by approving a measure to pay these employees overtime rather than allowing the buildup of comp time. This would begin with the 2017-18 fiscal year.