After months of delay, the Mobile County Commission has approved a nondisclosure agreement with Harris Corp. allowing a long-awaited and controversial $40 million radio project to move forward. However, at least one commissioner isn’t sure why there was a holdup in the first place.
As Lagniappe reported last week, consultants overseeing the implementation of a P25 Phase II radio system for the Mobile County Communications District said the project had “slowed down big-time” because of the county’s reluctance to release information related to use of the existing radio system.
Even though some claimed the necessary information was freely shared in the past and is readily available online, Harris — a county contractor — has refused to release it to the MCCD or project manager Tusa Consulting without the county’s expressed permission.Though there’s been some debate between both sides, MCCD Director Charlie McNichol and some board members have openly suggested the three-month delay could be the result of “clashing personalities” with the county’s electronics department, which is supervised by head engineer and former MCCD board member Joe Ruffer.
This week, even Commission President Jerry Carl questioned why the delay was necessary.
“I have looked at this extensively, and I don’t know why we’re holding it up,” he said.
In response, county attorney Jay Ross said there were some “differences of opinion” about what information was actually being requested and whether its release could potentially create a security concern for the county. He also said he wanted to get the “consent of the staff” before moving forward.“Well, if we don’t get [the system] up and active, we’ve got lives that hinge on that, and I think several of them are sitting in here in the brown uniforms,” Carl said. “Why don’t we start with them? Because we’ve got to do something.”
After a lengthy executive session — attendees included Ruffer and two county attorneys — the commission voted 2-1 to approve the nondisclosure agreement. Carl’s was the only “no” vote. Though she didn’t comment on the cause of the delay, Commissioner Connie Hudson said the approved agreement should ensure the project continues ahead as planned.
“We were assured that, by voting on this resolution today, all the information that’s needed will be transferred to allow Harris to complete their project and without exposing any proprietary information,” Hudson said.
After reviewing the agreement, McNichol later confirmed it would indeed provide the information Harris needs to proceed with the project and MCCD needs to monitor their work. However, he did say there was still information the engineering and electronics departments “advised commissioners to restrict from MCCD” that could be needed down the road.
“We will proceed with this, as it does allow work to begin in this phase,” McNichol wrote. “However, if the remaining information in fact becomes needed to effectively manage our project, MCCD will ask the County Commissioners to amend the nondisclosure agreement.”