Public safety radio contract causes static over minority contracting

By Dana Amihere

Motorola radios (Photo by brettneilson/flickr)

Motorola radios (Photo by brettneilson/flickr)

Contracts over a statewide wireless radio network for first responders produced a heated debate before the Board of Public Works Wednesday, causing the award to be delayed for two weeks.

Motorola was hired to provide radio equipment, installation and maintenance services for the $485 million system to be built in five phases.  It’s interoperatability is intended to prevent communication failures between police and firefighters, said Elliot Schlanger, secretary of information technology.

“Motorola’s hitting it out of the park,” Schlanger said.

“The only thing that’s going to be hit out of the ballpark is the taxpayers when they begin to understand what we’ve gotten into here,” said Comptroller Peter Franchot. “We’re going to be paying $8,000 for radios Motorola makes?”

Franchot reminded the governor and state treasurer who also serve on the board that Motorola was contracted for $44 million more than a Maryland company had said it could do the job.

“When we purchase these radios let me suggest that they’ll be about three, four, five times what we would’ve paid under the other contractor,” Franchot said.

Advocates for minority contractors also found fault with Motorola’s procurement.

“I’m offended how they’ve computed the [minority business enterprise goal],” said Maryland Minority Business Association president Arnold M. Jolivet II.

Motorola’s contract stipulates 12% MBE participation, but this percentage doesn’t include some subcontractors who may install or service the two-way radios later, and is actually more like 27%, Motorola said.

The contested portion of the contract only makes up a “sliver” of the overall project, said Schlanger.

“One person’s sliver may be another small company’s survival,” said Comptroller Peter Franchot, while Gov. Martin O’Malley and Treasurer Nancy Kopp remained mostly mum on the issue.

In order to be considered as a contractor, MBEs must be certified by both the state and Motorola. As of today, only one MBE is certified by both. But Jolivet said other MBEs are doing the same work in Prince George’s, Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Howard counties and Baltimore City.

“There’s no evidence to suggest that (they) couldn’t work at the state level too,” Jolivet said.
“It’s a destructive policy.”

After several rounds of discussion on whether the MBE percentage deserved reconsideration or approval as written, the board agreed to table the issue two weeks to give Motorola and the Governor’s Office of Minority Affairs time to confer.

According to Lance Lucas of the Greater Baltimore Black Chamber of Commerce, “We just want to make sure minority businesses get a fair shake.”

About The Author

Len Lazarick

Len Lazarick was the founding editor and publisher of and is currently the president of its nonprofit corporation and chairman of its board He was formerly the State House bureau chief of the daily Baltimore Examiner from its start in April 2006 to its demise in February 2009. He was a copy editor on the national desk of the Washington Post for eight years before that, and has spent decades covering Maryland politics and government.

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