By JACQUELINE DURETT
SAYREVILLE — The borough came to a decision on the emergency radio system at the June 13 meeting, but it was a decision that did not come easy — or without significant dissent.
The Borough Council — after numerous discussions at meetings, including a special June 6 meeting dedicated to the issue — opted to purchase a $1.8 million standalone emergency radio system through West Berlin-based Tactical Public Safety, a dealer for the Harris brand of radios.
However, the borough’s emergency officials and consultant Dominic Valecco had recommended the system from competitor Motorola.
Middlesex County also uses Harris-brand radios. However, the standalone system would be a separate system from the county’s.
The council was split along party lines, and both parties attempted to make motions to advance their respective choice to a vote.
The Democratic motion advanced for Harris. Democratic Councilwoman Victoria Kilpatrick said she had researched the issue thoroughly and said the benefits of Harris included free roaming, installation costs, 95 percent coverage guarantee in the county and failover capabilities compatible with the Middlesex County system.
Kilpatrick said she was also concerned that Motorola’s technology might be different in the future and perhaps incompatible with the county’s Harris system should a failover be required.
Her fellow Democratic council members echoed similar thoughts, including Harris’ monitoring process and the vendor’s final cost coming in at $100,000 cheaper than the Motorola system.
However, Republicans on the council said they were supporting the recommendation of emergency officials.
Mayor Kennedy O’Brien, who said he had not received as many phone calls during his nearly 20-year tenure as mayor on an issue than he had for this issue, particularly calls in support of Harris, speculated ahead of the vote about the intentions of anyone supporting the brand.
“Really, I take great umbrage in that Sayreville has lost control of its destiny,” O’Brien said. “So, whoever here from Sayreville who is benefiting from this in any manner, shape or form by moving this forward, I really hope you find it worthwhile because I really believe the people of Sayreville are being shortchanged. I believe our first responders, our police, our fire, our first aid are being [short]changed.
“And I have no idea why we asked the chief of police and his administration and people and the fire department and the first aid to go through this effort for almost two years and then throw their recommendations out the window. I find it incredibly insulting. I find it poor management. And I find it particularly poor government.”
The vote went along party lines, 4-2.
Following the vote, emergency officials who spoke were particularly irate at the decision, with some shouting criticism from the audience.
Fire Chief Vincent Waranowicz said he was insulted at the work he and other officials put into the project and took issue with the reasons Democrats gave for supporting Harris.
He said of the cost savings, “I think you should be more worried about life safety. Have you ever used a radio? Do you know what it’s like to be in a burning building?”
He said he was more concerned about the radio coverage in the borough versus the county, which he said was a key reason he had supported Motorola over Harris.
George Gawron, first assistant fire chief, said the approved system is not one the fire department will be able to use to communicate with other municipalities in mutual aid situations.
“We are disappointed that you wouldn’t take our recommendation,” said Police Chief Ronald Batko, who felt Kilpatrick’s criteria for understanding of the nuances between the vendors was incomplete. However, he said he did appreciate the amount of effort the council did put into the process and said he was happy the borough was moving forward with a new system regardless.
“You know what? … This was a hard decision,” Kilpatrick responded, saying there was more she wanted to ask in regards to the vendors, but was stopped by the mayor. “If this is something I have to wear for the duration of my time here, if this is something that stops me from being here, I am going to put my head on the pillow tonight. I am going to say I tried my damnedest to do what’s right.”