After weeks of delay and contentious discussion among city leaders, the Tullahoma Fire and Police departments had its purchase of 30 digital capable radios approved by the Tullahoma Board of Mayor and Aldermen.

The police and fire departments originally sought the approval to purchase the 30 professional grade radios in October but were put off until questions raised by Alderman Jenna Amacher were cleared.

She took issue with the city utilizing a non-local vendor for the purchase, stating it would be incongruous to the city’s emphasis on supporting local businesses not to go with the local vendor for the radios.

Jenna Amacher.jpg

Alderman Jenna Amacher

 “I feel like you can buy the same Bunny bread at Publix and Piggly Wiggly,” she said at the meeting. “You know, we have these ‘shop local’ initiatives. I just feel like it’s completely antithetical for us to keep pushing that and not give a local business a shot. I think this might be an opportunity to see if he was able to meet the demand that’s required.”

During the Oct. 19 board meeting, Fire Chief Richard Shasteen explained the preferred vendor, Communications Evolutions from McMinnville, had provided the communication tools for the width and breadth of Coffee County, including the 911 communications center, and purchasing the radios from the same vendor would assist with consistency and support issues that may arise. Because all the Coffee County emergency operations radios were provided by Communications Evolutions, it was better to purchase the radios from the same company for consistency’s sake.

Shasteen also told the board that Communications Evolutions was an authorized Motorola dealer for the specific radios his department and TPD were requesting to purchase, whereas the local vendor was not.

Amacher sought to postpone the approval of the purchase until a representative from Communication Specialist, the local vendor, could attend a meeting and submit a case for the business. That postponement was approved, pushing the radio purchase to the Nov. 9 meeting.

Chad Chellstorp of Communication Specialist attended the November meeting, stating his case for why his business should be considered for the radio purchase. Chellstorp told the board he submitted a price quote to the fire department, giving the department “the best possible deal that we could.” That quote was $1,000 cheaper than the quote from Communications Evolutions.

Chellstorp clarified that his business is an authorized Motorola commercial radio dealer, further stating Motorola would allow the commercial radio channel “to have access to any professional tier radio model upon approval of our reseller’s opportunity.” Motorola would grant his business a one-time approval to sell the professional-grade radios to the department, Chellstorp added.

According to Chellstorp, his business would also provide the Motorola factory five-year warranty, as well as programming required for free with the purchase of the radios. He also said his business is on call 24 hours a day, so any service requests would be answered in a timely manner.

“Servicing this specific radio … Communication Specialist can handle anything on the exterior of the radio, as far as antennae, knobs, belt clips and screws,” he said. “Any repairs on the internal of the radio will have to be sent off to Motorola for repair. This is an IP-rated radio, and if you open the case of the radio to repair the internal problem, you immediately void the manufacturer’s warranty.”

Chellstorp stated his business would keep “a couple of” extra radios on hand if the department should ever need to send one off for internal repairs, addressing servicing issues.

Shasteen said while he did look at Chellstorp’s quote, it did not meet the qualifications he required for the purchase.

“We looked at his quote,” Shasteen told the board. “When we got his quote, he made it clear he was a low-tier Motorola dealer. That does not include professional grade.”

Shasteen acknowledged Chellstorp’s one-time approval to sell the radios required, but said he was “still concerned about the service.”

“We are in the middle of a project that we’ve been working on for a year, buying portable radios and mobile radios and installing repeaters,” he said. “They’ve all been through the same company that does the communications center work; that does the ambulance service work. They do TUA; they do Elk River Gas, which are two key partners that we speak with regularly on the radios. I just am still concerned about buying from somebody that just got permission to do a one-time sale of radios.”

Shasteen said he would love to be able to go with more local vendors as long as there was a local authorized dealer for the professional grade radios.

“I would buy from them in a minute, because it would be a lot easier for me to drive a block down the road and say, ‘Here, fix this radio,’” he said. “But I can’t do that. Not right now, not with Motorola professional grade radios.”

Shasteen also said the department was also in the process of transitioning to digital radios at the beginning of the year. Buying from a different distributor for some of the radios, he said, would cause more hardship for the police officers and firefighters who use the radios.

“Each one of our officers has their own assigned radio,” he said. “It has their badge number in it and their ID. If they get in trouble, they can push a button, and we already know who it is without them saying a word. If we’re going to have radios that are going to be sent off, that radio that they [Communication Specialist] had us to use would have to be programmed right then to match that person.”

Having a different vendor right now would put the first responders at risk for “confusion and problems,” Shasteen added.

“We’re very happy with our service right now,” he said. “We’re very happy with the dealer that all of us are using, and I would just encourage you to support the police and fire chief in our endeavor in this final purchase of these portable radios.”

The board approved the purchase of the radios, valued at $18,508.50, from Communications Evolutions in McMinnville on a 6-1 vote. Amacher was the lone objector.

Staff Writer

Erin McCullough has won awards for her news reporting, community lifestyles and education reporting in the three years she's been a journalist. She is a graduate of the University of Tennessee and currently lives in Tullahoma with her cat, Luna.

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