By Mark Waite
Nye County Sheriff Tony DeMeo, who was referred for prosecution to the Nevada Attorney General’s Office by county commissioners last week for overspending his budget, also isn’t earning any brownie points with commissioners by approving contracts for the radio system without their approval.
The county’s Information Technology Director Mark Hatfield brought up numerous problems with the $6 million SmartZone system, which went online last year and was designed to link up deputies in Pahrump, Beatty and Tonopah.
Then Nye County Commission Chairman Candice Trummell and Chief Civil Deputy District Attorney Ron Kent signed the original lease purchase agreement with Motorola in 2005 for an initial $3.59 million. It calls for annual 10-year payments of $442,409.
But DeMeo and NCSO Lt. Jack Hennigan were the only signatures on a $327,516 change order approved in 2007 to add Smoky Valley to the Southern Nevada Area Communications Council SNACC system.
County Commissioner Joni Eastley said she absolutely had no knowledge of approving the change order. She described it as “highly unusual” for the sheriff to approve it without the county commission’s consent.
Commissioner Gary Hollis asked at the Oct. 16 meeting whether the sheriff had authorized any other entity’s equipment at Pahrump tower sites. Hatfield said Utilities Inc. of Central Nevada and local Internet provider, Air Internet, had equipment at the county site on the west side of Pahrump.
“Well I don’t remember doing that contract,” Hollis said.
Eastley said, “Nobody can enter into any kind of contractual agreement with anyone except commissioners and I hope everybody realizes that.”
A memorandum of understanding was signed by DeMeo on Dec. 3, 2008 and by UICN Regional Manager Wendy Barnett Feb. 5, 2009 allowing UICN to connect communications equipment in the shelter as well as antennas on the tower. UICN also asked to construct 230 feet of chain link fence with barb wire and a gate for security. There are no county commission signatures on this agreement either.
The county clerk’s office couldn’t find any evidence either item ever appeared on a county commission agenda.
Nye County District Attorney Brian Kunzi told the Pahrump Valley Times, “any contract not approved, or the power to execute has not been delegated by the Board of County Commissioners is not a legal contract.” But he said it would be an overstatement to call what sheriff’s officials have engaged in an illegal act.
Air Internet was doing tower maintenance and changing light bulbs in exchange for its agreement to install communications equipment at the Pahrump site, Hatfield said.
Another big black eye is Hatfield’s statement to commissioners that Motorola recommended against installing the new VHF truncated system due to potentially missed verbal communications, interference and potential site problems, which have and could in the future impact deputies’ ability to call for help in emergency situations. Nevertheless, Hennigan and DeMeo signed off on a three-page review containing these qualifications on Aug. 1, 2007, he said.
“Nye County signed off that we have been notified and advised this could be problematic and we went with it anyways,” Hatfield told stunned commissioners.
A $2 million contract was executed with Harris Corporation in 2006 to link up the new truncated system. But Hatfield said the equipment in the microwave system and the radio system is now outdated, which means the county can’t buy parts and the manufacturer won’t maintain it.
The plan for deputies in Pahrump to be able to talk to deputies in Tonopah, Beatty, Smoky Valley and Warm Springs hasn’t worked out, Hatfield said.
DeMeo was visibly angry over the radio controversy and hung up when asked for comment days ago.
In September 2011, Eastley scolded the sheriff for approving an amendment to a contract for a temporary sheriff’s impound lot without commission approval.
“We all took an oath of office to follow the laws of the State of Nevada. One of the laws of the State of Nevada says you can’t do things like this. You can’t violate a contract or go outside the contract and issue an amendment and come to us after the fact,” the commissioner said at the time.
In his report to commissioners last week, Hatfield, who leaves the county to return to Ohio at the end of the year, disclosed these problems with the new truncated system:
* The VHF radio system has interference from Valley Electric Association power lines in Pahrump;
* Reception inside buildings is poor or non-existent;
* The trunked radio system has never been turned on in Amargosa Valley and frequencies obtained for Amargosa Valley interfere with frequencies in Pahrump;
* Nye County was loaned 800 megahertz radio for better reception, but they won’t work anywhere outside of Pahrump;
* The microwave link between Sawtooth Mountain and Beatty dispatch is lost on a regular basis;
* Antennas twice fell off telephone poles atop Mount Brock above Tonopah, where the radio frequencies there also interfere with other frequencies;
* Equipment atop Montezuma Peak between Goldfield and Tonopah need to be moved to a better location for better coverage;
* The Smoky Valley microwave link needs to be moved to a higher location than the Hadley subdivision.
Curtis Steadman, Motorola senior account manager, in an update on the Smart Zone system Aug. 21, 2007 told county commissioners, “there are some potential interference issues between some of the frequencies. That can be mitigated. There’s no cause for great alarm, though we wanted to make aware to commissioners and the sheriff of these potential interferences.”
Motorola gave a one-year warranty on its system.
Trummell questioned DeMeo in July 2006 about a delay in using 74 frequencies acquired from the Federal Communications Commission.
“We don’t know if we’ll have frequencies that will work,” Trummell said.
Former Commissioner Patricia Cox wanted assurances from Harris Corp. about time lines for delivering the system and late penalties for not making them.
Nye County was using a $1.5 million emergency management grant to pay much of the $2 million cost of the microwave system, the rest came out of Payment Equal to Taxes.
“Early on I recognized some of the challenges that would be faced with this communication system. It’s a complicated issue and the commissioners understandably relied upon the sheriff and his experts to provide advice and counsel to the county commission. It’s just unfortunate that these problems have materialized and perhaps gotten even worse than I suspected back then,” Trummell said by phone on Thursday.
Nevada Attorney General’s Office spokesman Jennifer Lopez said her office has yet to receive the referral from Nye County on DeMeo’s case.