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

Maintenance company halves MCCD’s monthly bill

With the approval of the board this morning, the Mobile County Communications District settled a couple of outlying issues with Hurricane Electronics — a move that could save the taxpayers of Mobile County approximately $200,000 over the next 17 months. In June, when the MCCD agreed to self-investigate a $40 million communications enhancement contract awarded to Harris Corporation in 2013, several other questions were raised about Hurricane Electronics, Harris’ only authorized dealer in the region. Since January 2014, Hurricane Electronics has routinely charged around $22,000 each month for the regular maintenance of the county-owned emergency communications system. However, that...

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County employees address $40 million Harris contract

The Mobile County Communications District (MCCD) has made headlines recently since the bidding process for a $40 million communications enhancement project came under scrutiny by members of the organization’s own board. Last month the MCCD, or 911 board, agreed to fund a special investigation into the process by which Harris Corporation was awarded the contract in 2013. At the center of the bid were Mobile County Engineer Joe Ruffer and Director of Public Safety Communications Eric Linsley — two county employees that until July 31, had turned down multiple opportunities to speak with members of the local media and...

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911 board suspends $40M radio contract pending investigation

More questions have surfaced in regard to the $40 million contract to overhaul the local 911 radio system since the Mobile County Communications District (MCCD) agreed to pay for an independent investigation into the contract earlier this month. Now — citing the potential for litigation — the board has agreed to suspend the contract completely. During a special meeting called June 30, the commissioners of the MCCD agreed to suspend all payments and deliverables related to the contract it signed with Harris Corporation in 2013. Up to $10,000 more was also allocated to the continued investigation into the contract,...

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MCCD agrees to investigate $40 million radio system contract

Over the past three months the Mobile County Communications District (MCCD) — also referred to as the 911 board — has been asking a lot of questions about a $40.1 million communications enhancement contract from 2013. Now those questions have prompted the board to launch an independent investigation into the project. The contract, signed with Harris Communications, was mostly financed through a $34.9 million revenue bond issued in 2013 and authorized by the Mobile County Commission, but lately the management and financial oversight of the contract has come into question — specifically by MCCD board member Trey Oliver. Oliver...

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MCCD backtracks on $1.5 million contract component ‘no one wanted’

In November, the Mobile County Communications District (MCCD) kicked off a $40 million communications enhancement project, yet a component of that project is now in the process of being removed after it was recently determined “no one ever wanted it.” During a regular meeting last Thursday, board members approved a deductive change order that would remove the “OpenSky” technology from the $36 million contract they signed with Harris Communications in 2013. During the meeting, Capt. Phillip Ballard of Mobile Fire and Rescue said most of the first responders in the county never had plans to use OpenSky because it...

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‘Financial accountability’ sought on 911 board

At least four members of the Mobile County Communications District — commonly referred to as the 911 board — think the governmental body needs to curb its spending habits and become better stewards of taxpayer money. At a meeting on April 9, Commissioner Trey Oliver expressed his perceived issues with overspending and what he considered to be a lack of financial oversight. Afterward, he highlighted those issues and more in an email sent to the Mobile County Commission at the beginning of the week. Though Oliver authored the letter, in the first paragraph he said board Chairman Steve Bowden, Vice Chairman and Citronelle Police Chief Shane Stringer and Commissioner Cynthia Coleman share his “concerns.” At the center of the commissioners’ concern is a $40 million communications system improvement project the MCCD touted at a ceremonial groundbreaking in November, which despite the project’s roots spanning back to 2012, was the first time it was formally announced to the public. The project, partially funded with a $34.9 million revenue bond authorized by the Mobile County Commission, is supposed to improve the communication ability of first responders and allow other agencies to tap into local equipment during an emergency. The project was awarded to the Harris Corporation in 2013, but Oliver — who’s been a vocal opponent  — said he’s worried the upgrade will not substantially improve service for the first responders...

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911 board could feel effects from Houston County lawsuit

Recently the Mobile County Communications District joined Madison and Jefferson counties in filing amicus briefs to a lawsuit scheduled to go before the Alabama Supreme Court that could have implications on 911 funding across the state. The complaint was filed by Dothan/Houston County Communications District (HCCD) in early 2014, but its origins are rooted in 2011 legislation that changed the way funding for the state’s communication districts is received from taxpayers. Prior to Oct. 1, 2013, fees assessed on landline phone bills were collected by individual county 911 boards to maintain an area’s emergency communications, while at the state level a “wireless board” collected and distributed fees assessed to cell phone users. Since then, a statewide board was established to collect fees through both wireless and landline bills and then distribute them back to each communication district. The HCCD filed the original lawsuit after officials there believed there was a strong possibility CenturyTel of Alabama and its subsidiary Qwest Communications Company had not billed and distributed all of the 911 fees it should have, particular to its landline business customers. In the complaint, attorneys for HCCD say by “not billing all the required 911 charges, CenturyTel were able to provide telecommunication services at prices that are cheaper than their competitors — giving them a competitive advantage.” It’s worth noting this is not the first such case against CenturyTel nor...

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County requests ethics clarification on engineer’s board resignations

Despite the matter being previously discussed with attorneys for the Alabama Ethics Commission, Mobile County is seeking a formal opinion as to whether its lead engineer, Joe Ruffer, can serve on multiple county-appointed boards. As has been previously reported, Ruffer stepped down from four boards earlier this month, and in his resignation letter cited conversations and correspondence with Hugh Evans, the ethics commission’s general counsel. The letter to Mobile County Commissioners suggested Ruffer’s service on such boards would create an “inherent conflict of interest,” in Evans’ legal opinion. Others have previously told Lagniappe there was also an issue of Ruffer serving on multiple county boards simultaneously, all of which handle some funding from the county commission. “This is far reaching, not only for Mobile County but for all municipalities and counties in the state,” District 1 Commissioner Merceria Ludgood said. “We want to put them on notice, so that everybody that’s potentially affected can weigh in. So much of these opinions depend on what facts are submitted.” Ludgood, who serves as president of the Association of County Commissions of Alabama, said she also plans to address the issues with other commissioners across the state who could be facing similar situations. As of March 13, Ruffer tendered his resignation from boards presiding over the Mobile County Communications District (MCCD), the Government Utilities Service Corporation of Mobile County (GUS), the Mobile...

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