Mobile County Communications District

The Mobile County Communications District operates the county's emergency radio operations network. In 2014, questions were raised about $40 million contract awarded to Harris Corporation. Subsequently, the director and board president were dismissed and retired, respectfully, after an internal investigation determined the contract had been mismanaged. BY LAGNIAPPE STAFF

Mobile County Communications District

County, 911 Board looking to improve ‘lousy’ communication

Attorneys with Mobile County and the Mobile County Communications District (911 Board) are working to untangle an undocumented agreement that has split the cost of regular maintenance for the radio network used by first responders for the last two years. The issue boils down to two radio systems. The first is EDACS, the current radio network used by police, fire and rescue agencies, as well as public works employees with Mobile County and some smaller municipalities in the area. The second is the P25 Phase II radio system currently being constructed by Harris Corp. — a $40 million construction project rife with controversy. Despite being distinct legal entities with independent governing bodies and funding sources, the county and the 911 Board continue to split the cost and responsibility of the existing system. The maintenance on those 11 radio towers is divided, with the 911 Board maintaining three towers in accordance with a $12,000 monthly contract with Hurricane Electronics and the remaining eight taken care of by Mobile County, specifically by the electronics department supervised by Mobile County Engineer Joe Ruffer. Until stepping down last year amid ethical questions, Ruffer was also previously the president of the 911 Board. At roughly the same time as Ruffer’s resignation, a breakdown in communication began between the county and the 911 Board. Today, board member Trey Oliver told Lagniappe, most of the talking is...

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Ruffer reappointment raises questions

If you hired a guy to oversee the construction of your house and just about the time things were about to wrap up you did a little investigating and found out your foreman had overspent by more than 12 percent of the total cost, would you hire him to oversee another project? What if that same foreman had discovered a subcontractor overcharged you, but instead of telling you he came up with a secret repayment plan and continued to use that subcontractor, would you hire him again? That’s pretty much what County Commissioners Connie Hudson and Merceria Ludgood did...

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911 board appoints new members

Winding down a year full of controversy, the board of the Mobile County Communications District is looking to get back on track with the appointment of three new members as it moves into 2016. As its nickname suggests, the “911 board” commissioners manage the countywide radio system used by first responders. As such, it has historically comprised representatives from police, fire and emergency medical agencies throughout the county. Recently, however, due to resignations and members changing jobs since their initial appointment, some agencies have been unrepresented on the board. On Dec. 14, the Mobile County Commission moved to fill...

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The $2.4 million grant project ‘never used by anybody’

Attorneys for the Mobile County Commission and the Mobile County Communications District (911 board) are trying to salvage a $770,000 refund that’s been sitting in the bank for more than year  — money returned from a $3.2 million project awarded to Harris Corporation in 2012. The refund was discussed at length during a meeting Dec. 10, which ultimately led to 911 board member Trey Oliver abruptly walking out. The issue is rooted in a lack of communication between the county and the 911 board that appears to have led to “a number” of duplicate equipment purchases in the board’s 2013...

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‘911 Board’ debacle shows real problems

If a public entity attempts to unnecessarily spend $5 million on a $40 million project, what should we be left to assume — incompetence, willful negligence or worse? I’m still left wondering what was happening at the Mobile County Communications District (MCCD) more than a month after questions by some board members combined with media scrutiny to stop them from spending $5 million more than they needed to on their latest communications contract. In September, the MCCD — commonly known as the “911 Board” — announced it had managed to dump an unnecessary 13 percent of the total cost...

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MCCD renegotiates Harris contract, saves $5 million

After months of closed contract negotiations, the Mobile County Communications District was able to shave just under $5 million off of a $40 million emergency communications enhancement project that was awarded to Harris Corporation in 2013. The contract itself has been under significant scrutiny since June, when the MCCD board, often referred to as the 911 board, voted to halt all payments and progress on the project until an independent review panel could examine the history of the contract. To date, the panel of former FBI agents, private investigators and forensic accountants has charged the MCCD nearly $20,000, but...

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MCCD approves $16 million budget with increased salaries

With an internal investigation still pending, the Mobile County Communications District approved its largest budget yet on Thursday with almost $16 million of planned expenditures and a continued practice of annual merit raises for its employees. Capital outlay projects and debt service make up the costliest section of the budget, with just under $10.5 million set aside for those expenses. Radio system improvements, equipment replacement, network upgrades and new office furniture make up some that cost. The biggest chunk of capital expenses comes from a $4.8 million bond payment on a $34.9 million loan the board acquired to finance...

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Former Harris salesman discusses controversial 911 contract

When the Mobile County Communications District (911 board) first began mulling the idea of quickly awarding a $40 million sole-source radio enhancement contract to Harris Corporation, sales manager Corey Helper worked to put the plan together. Though the project was ultimately put out to bid, it was Harris Corporation that received the work — continuing a long relationship with Mobile County that predates most of the 911 board members. Originally, the expansive radio upgrade was laid out in a seven-year capital improvement plan the 911 board approved in August 2012. According to Helper, Harris helped develop some of the...

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