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Company sues state over disputed radio network job

Motorola Inc. says the state broke the law by negotiating with a competing company to finish the job.

By SHELBY OPPEL

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 21, 2000


TALLAHASSEE -- The company that built half of a radio network to link Florida law enforcement officers has sued the state, charging that officials unfairly gave away the rest of the job.

At stake: a $300-million contract that two companies badly want to expand the network statewide.

Motorola Inc., which already has built the network across 15 counties from Miami to Orlando, filed the lawsuit Thursday in Leon Circuit Court. It claims that the state Department of Management Services violated Florida's Government-in-the-Sunshine law when it held a private meeting to evaluate competing bids by Motorola and Com-Net Ericsson Critical Radio Systems Inc.

After the June 22 meeting, a team of department employees and other officials voted to negotiate a contract to complete the network with Com-Net instead of Motorola, the lawsuit alleges. The June 22 meeting, and subsequent meetings between state officials and Com-Net, should have been open to Motorola and the public, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit names Roy Cales, the state's chief information officer, as chairman of the team that voted to negotiate with Com-Net. Cales said Thursday he could not comment on a pending lawsuit.

The best-known applications of the Sunshine Law usually involved elected officials. But a March 1999 informal opinion by the state attorney general's office said some panels established by a state agency to evaluate vendors seeking state contracts are subject to the Sunshine Law.

The digital radio system is expected to be completed within two years. It will allow the Florida Highway Patrol, Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, among other agencies, to communicate during emergencies via radios in officers' cars. Local law enforcement officers will be able to connect under special circumstances.

"This is actually a very, very important purchase for the citizens of Florida," said Pat Sturmon, public relations manager for Illinois-based Motorola. About $60-million in state money has been spent on the first two phases of the project, Sturmon said. Florida drivers and boaters foot the bill each year when they renew their motor vehicle and vessel registrations and are charged $1 toward the project.

Motorola's lawsuit asks the court to invalidate the department's negotiations with Com-Net.

Com-Net's chief executive officer, Steve Savor, called the lawsuit silly. Com-Net is continuing to negotiate and has not signed a contract.

"We thought we were in complete compliance (with the Sunshine Law)," Savor said. "And we thought, until things went south for Motorola, they thought that, too."

-- Staff writer Diane Rado contributed to this report.

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